Revolt Against The fake
There is a battle on today to decide what 'being authentic' means and what it does not.
The Millennial generation, those born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, face different challenges to those born earlier. Student debts, an exorbitantly pricey housing market and an expansion of minimum wage service industry jobs have put many in a precarious position as they enter the working world. Research is evolving over their tastes and traits. Some observations are complimentary: they are confident and tolerant; others less so: they are thought to have a sense of entitlement and a tendency to narcissism. One particular characteristic is their love of authenticity.
This longing is explicable. The product of growing up in an evolved consumer world where wants must be packaged as needs in order for more stuff to be bought is that more of life is built on lies. Everything is spun, packaged or processed - from politics to consumer services to food - but presented as the genuine article. Millennials are developing a nose which can distinguish a fake from the real thing and their elders should take note.
So what does being authentic really mean? A thesaurus will contain synonyms like ‘genuine, original, real, bona fide, true’, but there is a serious battle being waged to settle its parameters and it is happening in the place Millennials spend most of their time: online. Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook has said:
Expressing our authentic identity will become even more pervasive…Profiles will not longer be outlines but detailed self-portraits of who we really are, including the books we read, the music we listen to, the distances we run, the places we travel, the causes we support, the video of cats we laugh at, our likes and our links. And yes, this shift to authenticity will take getting used to and will elicit cries of lost privacy.
Perhaps we could put that another way: Facebook would like you to share more of yourself online so that a company which makes all its money from advertising can sell more of you to others for a profit. The equating of authenticity with the surrender of privacy is as fake as it gets when we think of it in these terms.
Some may be willing to make this uneasy transaction for the sake of sharing with those they love, but not everyone online and in touch with our profiles has our well-being in mind and neither is commercial security always competent to defend us, as TalkTalk customers can testify. We have surrendered the kinds of information to public scrutiny which some regimes are used to killing and torturing for.
The development of Christian character calls for something richer. Puritans would eschew net curtains to demonstrate to the passing world that there was nothing to hide in their personal lives and there is a strong sense in which those who have nothing to obscure may confidently give more of themselves to others. But the notion of having one identity which all can look at and probe does violence to the layers of personality which make us up. We do not share with strangers as with our friends and families but social media is asking this of us.
Purity of character means the fruit of the Spirit should be evident in each part of our lives and we should be demonstrably consistent in our calling to live as disciples of Christ in the home, the street, the car, the shop and the workplace. It does not require us to share the same information with everyone. There is a place for mystery in the human soul which only those we trust may share. Social media companies have much to offer society but they are not entitled to set the parameters by which we relate to one another and expect us to conform.
In concluding his anthem to love in 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul says: ‘now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’. Full revelation must await the world to come and only God knows – and should know - us fully now. Only he can be trusted with everything; in him we quest for the kind of authenticity which may attract others
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