There is something about a smart phone that subtly (and not so subtly) conveys the notion that we are important. With three missed calls, 18 unread e-mails, and 32 notifications between twitter, facebook, instagram, we are pelted with the enticing idea: “Someone needs my attention!” The immediate ring, buzz, or pop-up note proclaiming the arrival of these new messages is somehow complimentary, even as it demands our attention—”Check now! Something somewhere is happening!”
The language of technology seems to further our sense of importance by bidding us to claim and personalize these worlds. I am only one click away from “my documents,” “my calendar,” “my favorites,” “my music,” “my pictures,” and “my shopping cart.” Anthropologist Thomas de Zengotita calls it “MeWorld.” In a book that examines the ways in which the world of media shapes our lives, de Zengotita portrays the technologically advanced, media-saturated West as a world filled with millions of individual “flattered selves,” each living in its own insulated, personalized world.(1) He believes the narcissism that comes from living in MeWorld has been fashioned and is constantly being fed by media representations in all areas of our lives, from those private self-representations that purport us the star to public advertisements, television, and magazines that ever address us personally.
Subtle as it may be, the most precarious part of flattered living is that we gradually lose sight of both life and self. Despite all of the overt declarations on my phone or computer, this is not, in fact, “my world.” Though I am flattered by the attention of MeWorld, I am not the center of all existence. French philosopher Rene Descartes outlined one reason why: “Now, if I were independent of all other existence, and were myself the author of my being… I should have given myself all those perfections of which I have some idea, and I should thus be God.” In other words, if I were truly independent, if the world truly revolved around me, why should I find in myself any imperfection at all? Is it not then irrational to live as if I am the center of the world?
The Christian worldview takes this inquiry one step further. Namely, how do I cultivate an awareness that this is God’s world in a world that reminds me at every turn that it is mine? The counter-cultural admission that we are not our own nor walking alone is certainly a starting point. A poem called “The Avowal” by Denise Levertov speaks to such an awareness:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
For the Christian, living both coherently and authentically involves an understanding of what truly undergirds the self no matter how flattered the selfie becomes. Hence the fitting prayer of the hymnist: This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget.
When Jesus looked to the disciples on one of his last nights with them on earth, he covered their hearts with a similar notion: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going… I am the way and the truth and the life.”(2)
As a Christian, there is some relief in confessing that the world—indeed, even my world—is surely the Lord’s and all that is in it. It is also the starting point, the place where the self can begin the journey toward home. We are not flattered on our way to this house, but transformed by the very one who prepares the way.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Thomas de Zengotita, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005), 21.
(2) John 14:1-4, 6.