We are surrounded by stories.
Most of them hit us as soon as we wake up, in about 140 characters or less.
Before I have even opened my eyes my hand is clutching my phone. A quick scroll through Facebook and Twitter and I am now connected. There is nothing going on with my friends that I don’t know about. Ah, relief.
I can now take a shower.
A 2011 study shows that 1 in every 13 people in the world have a Facebook account and 48% of 18-34 year-olds check Facebook before even getting out of bed in the morning. In an average 20 minutes on Facebook 1 million links are shared, there are 1.8 million status updates and 2.7 million photo uploads. A shocking 57% of people talk to each other more online than they do in real life. Brian Solis, a principal at the Altimeter Group states that over 1 million Twitter accounts are created and 250 million tweets are sent out in the average day.
We are obviously learning how to tell stories. But the question is: what kind of stories are we telling?
A study published by Stanford University entitled “Misery Has More Company Than People Think” found that Facebook is actually making people sadder. In a study of 80 college freshmen, students overwhelmingly underestimated the negative emotions of their friends and overestimated the amount of fun those same peers were having through their activity on Facebook. The students who underestimated these negative emotions reported feeling more lonely and miserable themselves.
In her book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle writes about the anxiety students feel in keeping up a certain persona and identity through social networking sites. She calls this “presentation anxiety” and states that the constant stress of editing our identity actually causes us to lose it. One MIT student tells her that Facebook is "like being in a play. You make a character."
The dynamics of storytelling have changed. We are now telling new, shorter stories every day, if not every few minutes. These stories begin and end with the never-ending job of trying to appear funnier, more attractive, and successful than we really are. So why do we keep coming back for more?
In an article entitled Tell Your Story, Tell it Well, Alissa Wilkinson states that the answer is simple. We need stories in order to help make sense of our own. Stories spark our imagination and give us patterns to live by. Wilkinson shares, “The stories we tell each other, the ones that form our traditions, are powerful transmitters of the values and ethos of our communities.”
If we want to change the stories of our youth we have to start telling better stories ourselves. Stories that are life-giving and give us incentive to start building new stories. Sticky Faith is glued together by a series of good, meaningful stories. We just need to tell them.
How to start telling better stories…
1. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, look at your most recent posts and see what kind of story you might be telling. Have you created a character that you don’t even recognize? If it’s not a good story, begin to change it.
2. Limit the time you spend on social networking sites. If Facebook is making us sadder, maybe we should stop logging on as often.
3. Start using social networking as a tool to actually connect meaningfully. Share encouraging articles, posts and videos that give incentive for thought and action.
4. Go to coffee with a friend and don’t take your phone. The time you spend will carry a lot less anxiety and be a lot more intentional.