Twelve or thirteen years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to tag along as chaperones on a trip with some high school choir students who were competing in a kind of competition in New York City. One of the evenings while in the city, all of us went to see “Wicked” on Broadway. And after the play, the students hung around and several of the actors came out, sat on the edge of the stage, and took questions for 20-30 minutes.
One of the actors was Miriam Margolyes who is, perhaps, more famously known as “Professor Sprout” in the Harry Potter movies. She said something that night that has stayed with me and is related to something I’ve been pondering on a bit lately. Ms. Margolyes gave some sage advice to the students about pursuing a career in the arts. She said that they would have to decide if their goal was to be famous or to develop and hone their craft. She talked about how a lot of people are drawn to the arts as a pathway to become famous, and she talked to the students about how unlikely it was to actually achieve that goal. But she also talked about the worthiness of pursuing excellence in the arts for its own sake, without regard to fame.
I’ve been thinking lately about how, for some, social media seems to alter their entire approach to life. I observe more and more people who seem to have stopped pursuing their lives and started performing their lives instead. I hope I’m wrong. But I wonder how many people are actively doing things because of the impression it will leave on social media rather than because of the intrinsic worthiness or desirability of the thing itself. How many people, in the midst of their lives, are no longer fully engaged, but are instead secretly anticipating the ‘reactions’ they hope to get from their social media friends? As if our lives are just reality shows, lived for the entertainment of others. I wonder...
C.S. Lewis alluded to an earlier version of this phenomenon in his book, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Eustace, one of the characters in the book, is a young boy who has a great deal yet to learn about life. He’s a selfish, spoiled brat. To illustrate the deficiency in Eustace’s character, Lewis observes that boys like Eustace don’t care much about learning yet care a great deal about their grades.
“He always had this notebook with him and kept a record of his marks in it, for though he didn't care much about any subject for its own sake, he cared a great deal about marks.”
What’s important to Eustace is not his actual capability or mastery but, rather, the impression he creates . He’s in it for the fame, not the excellence. (To understand Lewis’ point, you have to understand that it’s entirely possible to get good grades without actually loving to learn or achieving mastery.)
I worry sometimes that social media has captured such a significant portion of mind space that many people are performing Facebook lives instead of pursuing real lives. I’m concerned that people are making choices, based not on their own interests or the worthiness of the pursuit, but based on how it will play on Facebook.
Slavery comes in many forms.