As smart technologies and media platforms continue to proliferate, it is becoming increasingly difficulty to differentiate truth and reality from the fictional and fake. As 2018 draws to a rapid close, an analysis of how the culture has redefined reality seems fitting.
"Reality" is a common cultural buzz word; however, we must be careful not to equate it with truth. Whereas each person's neurological reality is unique, which means that each person perceives and interprets reality in his or her own way, social reality is being engineered and social narratives spun which are being represented as truth. Truth is a constant which cannot be altered or interpreted through the narrow lense of an individual's personal interpretation. Truth must simply be believed and appropriated to be of personal value.
Virtual reality is associated with various technological experiences such as video gaming and 3D cinema where what we see is being modulated in some way to elicit a response as if it were real. Any online social interactions may be described as virtual. People are able to hide behind a cloak of invisibility uploading profile photos and personal descriptions which may be totally fake. Due to anonymity, they may feel more emboldened to make comments which they would not have the courage to make to someone's face. This can result in online bullying and trolling in which an offensive narrative is spun to maliciously undermine the reputation of a member of an online community. Popular culture fosters an escapist mentality whereby an alternate reality is promoted as preferable to actual reality. Yet life cannot ever be truly rewarding unless we choose to apply ourselves to overcoming the challenges presented in our own reality.
This genre of TV specialises in creating fake scenarios which have not come about naturally so, for example, "Big Brother" involves being cut off from the outside world for three weeks with people you would not have willingly chosen as companions with cameras rolling 24/7. Reality stars usually attract non-stop, no-holds-barred commentary on themselves within and outside the context of the shows in which they feature. It has been reported that in the US, "21 reality stars have taken their own lives in the past decade" (Nikki Osman and Sophie Goddard, "Time for a Reality Check," Women's Health, December 2018, p.118).
Many have become casualties of the culture of the counterfeit where an image of reality is being promoted as the norm to which we should all aspire. They feel like failures and take their own lives, they feel traumatized or frazzled, and seek refuge in antidepressants. They feel inadequate and indulge in escapism through mindless entertainment or narcotics and various other addictions. Why this persistent need to escape the demands of our everyday lives? By so doing, we are in effect wishing our lives away.
Facebook and Instagram are two prominent examples of social media where your popularity is likely to increase depending on how many photos you post on your accounts. Some people choose to upload profile shots which are not even them. The messages uploaded on to your Facebook wall are available to all your countless numbers of "friends" which means that you are not communicating in a meaningful way with anyone in particular. The fact that increasingly people are willing to risk their lives in pursuit of the ultimate selfie confirms that our "reality filters" have become skewed.
Reality is what you are experiencing in the here and now which is not filtered through any other means than your body, mind and spirit. What's real is what's going on in your life at this very moment. It has become the norm to live our lives vicariously through others and filtered by screens. World events and celebrity scandals can often seem more compelling and important than what's going on in our own lives. This is a telltale sign that we need to invest more of ourselves whole-heartedly in our own lives.
We live in a modern world where we are bombarded by images. God warned His people against becoming fixated on images to the extent of it leading to idol worship and idolatry. The second Commandment states that, "You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them,..." (Exodus 20: 4-5, NLT). Images have the capacity to deceive us. They can become so entrenched in our imaginations that they end up motivating us to desire the wrong things. God's desire is that we be led by truth not image. God's blueprint of how to think is found in Philippians 4:8 – "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" (NLT).
You can resolve today to let 2019 be shaped by your own reality and guided by the truth. Why not start with a "wifi-free" day, and use that time for some personal reflection. You need not meander around aimlessly in a "reality rut" which yields no true and lasting rewards. Here are some questions to help you reappraise 2018:
- What was the most interesting encounter you had with another person?
- Which book have you read that appealed to you the most?
- What was the greatest lesson you learned?
You can pick your own images to form the landscape of your imaginations and thoughts. It is possible to safeguard yourself against the social conditioning of the media and advertising by staying away from celebrity-driven, photoshopped images. Instead, try creating a memory board of images from your own life experiences not for comment or approval on Facebook, but simply to cherish your own memories of the moments you have lived. This is after all the greatest gift you can give yourself – accepting and embracing the life you've been given!
—Dr. Carla Cornelius is a Director and Editor at Jesus Joy Publishing. Her Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling has equipped her to trace humanity's problems back to faulty thinking and values which fly in the face of the Maker's instructions. She has a passion for exposing the distortions of truth spun by the media and popular culture which leave sick souls in their wake, souls desperately in need of spiritual detoxification. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide.