Social Media’s Vanity Fair: Danger on every side!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 04, 2015

When Russian Patriarch Kirill of Moscow criticized the vanity inherent in social media, he didn’t know the half of it. And that’s not a knock on social media; it’s a knock on life.

Listen, there will always be people who go on endlessly about nothing (much as I’m doing here). That’s as much a hazard of the office water cooler (or Keurig Brewer) as it is of Facebook; as much a hazard of the back of the classroom as it is of Twitter or texting. We humans change our technologies for convenience and our fashions for pleasure. But we seldom change our fundamental habits.

You have to learn to separate the wheat from chaff not only among social media avatars, but among classmates, coworkers, television personalities, authors, teachers, and priests. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. And he also tells us there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccles 1:2-9)

Look, the gadabout is no worse on Instagram than down in the 'hood, or back in the tribe. By the same token, people who tend to share themselves in positive ways usually accomplish that on Facebook as easily as by telephone, or telegraph, or smoke signals. When needed, they’ll still drop by personally for a chat (at least in a manner of speaking).

But that’s only half of the half of it.

Every time I write, I’m saying my opinions matter. I’m asking others to pay attention. I’m assuming I’m special. Some days I might be reluctant to express an opinion. Some days I act more from a sense of duty. But in general, writing is an older form of selfie, even if I’m only journaling about my prayer life for God.

So listen, look, and stop (working the admonition backwards should get me noticed). There are all kinds of levels of engagement with every medium, and all kinds of motives—good, bad and indifferent. Sometimes I have a bad day with nothing but the mirror. For his part, Patriarch Kirill chooses to warn against one form of social media using another form of media, which I presume he hopes will have significant social reach. It’s enough to make him the poster boy for irony.

But perhaps Patriarch Kirill prays each day to be protected from the dangers of interviews. If I cannot cast the first stone, who can? Even the hermits are too busy struggling with the vanity of their own thoughts.

But that’s OK too. We’re in this together. I raise my hand (and hope to be recognized). It isn’t just Facebook that requires our second-guessing. It isn’t just Twitter that demands a vanity check. It’s everything. It’s everyone. And please don’t forget ME.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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