Have you ever been worried you’ll be forgotten by a friend? Say they go on a long trip, or you move, and that nagging fear comes along: if I’m out of sight, will I be out of mind? Will they move on? Will our time together become just a background memory, recalled when triggered, but mostly left in the dustbins of our excess memory banks?
And the deeper question, of course, is “do I matter?” Because our thoughts are an indicator of what matters to us. If someone is thinking about us–if we are at the center, or at least the conscious periphery of their thought–then we matter to them in some way, right? If they care, then we must have value.
I started thinking about this after reading some of Tony Reinke’s interview with Kevin Vanhoozer over the weekend. They delve into all sorts of fascinating issues of discipleship in a digital age, but the segment that caught my attention came at the end:
Two anxieties drive much of what we do today: status anxiety (what will people think of me?) and the newer disconnection anxiety, which is tied to FOMO (fear of missing out). Put briefly: I connect, therefore I am. The question, however, is: connect to what? I’m afraid that, for many, the answer too often is the empire of the entertainment-industrial complex. We live in what has been described as an “attention economy,” and the Sunday morning sermon seems weak in comparison to a Safari surfing session. The latter enables us to ride the waves of popular culture and opinion. The sobering question for the disciple is whether our attention is being drawn to something worthwhile.
Spectacles are ephemeral, which is why those who suffer from FOMO are always on the lookout for The Next Big Thing. Disciples who are awake to reality have their attention fixed on the only breaking news that ultimately matters; namely, the news that the kingdom of God has broken into our world in Jesus Christ. This breaking news demands our sustained attention and a wide-awake imagination.
There’s so much to comment on in this little chunk alone. Still, the “I connect, therefore I am” bit caught my attention, especially as a fairly engaged Twitter user.
Much of the drive to connect online is definitely filtered through and shaped by the attention economy. What’s more, that economy can be an economy in a very real sense for many of us on social media. Having the right opinion at the right time on the right issue can be lucrative in ginning up writing gigs.
But honestly, beyond the crassly economic dimension, I think many of us who spend a significant amount of time online for blogging, work, or communication purposes have felt that existential anxiety.We want to be noticed. We want to be recognized, seen, heard, and I would add, remembered.
This is everybody from the 13-year-old girl wondering if her Instagram post will get as many likes as those of the other girls in her class to the political analyst hoping for Retweets on her latest, insightful live-tweet about the recent presidential debate.
I have to confess, there are seasons and days where I’ve noticed a certain anxiety about not having written anything in a while, or tweeted anything semi-clever in a few hours. Am I a particularly vain person? Possibly. But then, that’s not the sort of thing you’re able to judge for yourself.
But I think there’s a level of fear at being forgotten involved. Sure, I actually love the fun and frivolity of much of Twitter. The GIFs. The jokes. The nested conversations. The reality is, though, deep down there’s part of me that’s scared if I’m out of sight, I’ll be out of mind and I won’t matter anymore.
In a sense, this is one dimension of the looming fear of death that most of us in contemporary, American society never want to wrestle with or name anymore.
When you’re dead, eventually you’re forgotten. Even if you leave a “legacy”, it’s on the truly rare individual who is immortalized in song, statue, or prose. But those are forgotten too. How much more likely are we to be lost in an internet age when every second there are millions and billions of bits of data (stories, articles, ebooks, photos, videos, etc) being uploaded and (figuratively) papering over our photographs on the walls of history?
Of course, Twitter’s one of the most absurd ways of trying to fight the fear of death. The internet is forever, they say, but we all know that’s usually only for terrible things. In a sense, life on Twitter is very much an Ecclesiastes sort of experience. Work hard. Enjoy. Laugh. But remember that you’re going to die and all the followers you built and the reputation you’ve acquired as an insightful GIFer will fade quickly. Invested with existential weight, it too is a vanity of vanities.
Instead, I recall the concluding admonition of the editor:
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
As the Reformers were wont to remind us, we live life coram Deo–before the face of God. While it’s true that there is something of a threat of judgment–a call to remember the fear of the Lord–for those who are secure in knowing it through Christ that judgment comes (Rom. 2:16), there is a beautiful promise.
He is the eternal One who never forgets us, who keeps our lives ever before him–even those we fail to upload in perfect “Earlybird” filters. We are his creatures, his handiwork, and his adopted children who are never out of sight and never out of mind. Death is not the end, therefore. God will remember us into the resurrection and the age to come irrespective of our social media presence, but because of the presence of his Spirit of promise bestowed upon us in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14).
Soli Deo Gloria