Instagram,  Parenting,  Postmodernism


The selfie reigns. We now take more pictures of ourselves than anything else, even family. Narcissus would have found his home in our culture of vanity. And it’s not merely self-love that drives the like-score-card mentality, it is self-construction. At least Narcissus may have had a more static notions of human identity that we do. Our culture abandoned the idea of human nature in favor of a void, an identity determined by choice or cultural construction. And both notions are at play in the selfie.

This little craving for likes is heightened just when identity is painfully in life’s foreground – youth. TV Dr Robyn Silverman writes that teenagers “crave positive feedback to help them see how their identity fits into their world. Social media offers an opportunity to garner immediate information… Social media is a virtual talking mirror

Instagram is fast becoming the primary constructor of identity. It is a grand verification machine, a validation by popular vote. And it is treated as the mirror by which one can know one’s self. 

It would be difficult for anyone to mount a serious defense of constructing a self-identity from instragram, as Silverman writes, “Parents should help teens pinpoint meaningful sources for validation.” The trouble is not that the world can’t see the problem, but that there is no answer. What might a more meaningful voice be? What mirror should the parent hold up to the child? The alternative, apparently, is found within: “parents need to reinforce the idea that the most influential voice should come from within.” 
Quite what this voice is may be difficult to discern, but it is no answer to the problem. Our sinful withins are no better than our sinful withouts. They both lie, deceive and distort. And they can’t help it. To think that a popular vote would lead to any more than more untruth is to deny our fallen nature, to think there is some truth to the applause or boos of the instagram crowd.

James writes that we do have a mirror, an accurate reflection of our selves. In a section designed to show that knowledge of the word of God should lead to action James grounds the idea in the notion of identity. It is not a duty described, but an identity. One should act in accord with what one sees in the mirror. And the mirror is the word:

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

The selfie obsessed world we inhabit desperately needs to see themselves in the mirror of the word, to see the sinfulness of their own hearts. Believers, those James calls the “first fruits,” need to see their true identity as children of God in the scripture. This is the only accurate mirror.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.