Today I am honoured to be hosting the first of two guest posts by Annie Carter. I ‘met’ Annie through an online writing challenge I followed on my other blog (where I write things of broader relevance than the focus of this blog, and include links to all my writing around the web). Annie had these posts burning inside her, and wanted to connect with someone else thinking along similar lines. I thought they were excellent, and really important, so I offered to host them here. I hope you find them as thought-provoking as I did…
At first glance our culture, forged by the influences of technology, media and celebrity, is quite an impressive sight to behold. The imagery, communication and packaging of all that is available to us are extraordinary. From the ability to stream live music across the internet, to the 24/7 access to updated news, and the wonder of being invited to share in the minutiae of celebrities’ worlds, we have become immersed in a constant stream of entertainment and information.
As the culture evolves at such an unprecedented rate, the face of our society changes alongside it. No sooner have we grasped the intricacies of Twitter than another social media network has sprung up, along with a new web-enabled gadget on which to view it. Love it or hate it, we are caught up in a cultural whirlwind seeking pockets of space in our lives. More than ever before, we are more likely to be captivated by a small screen than by another person. The culture demands our attention; the media is its vehicle into our homes and lives.
We’re living in an era where the state of a celebrity’s tummy can make front page news and the number of Facebook ‘friends’ or twitter followers someone has determines their worth. Reality shows have taken over the TV schedules, and the masses are obsessed with the fortunes of celebrities, while many are also hoping for their own chance to pursue fame through one of these channels.
Meanwhile we regularly read of the unhappy state of celebrities’ lives. In the pursuit of popularity, huge numbers have sacrificed happiness, having been led to believe that the former would automatically produce the latter. Despite all that they’ve attained, many get caught up in destructive behaviour or feel that they should opt out of life altogether. Even at the peak of their careers, stars such as Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse felt a need to escape from the culture-saturated life they had created. They had all they ever wanted, but it turned out to be all sparkle and precious little substance. Both icons perhaps in part became victims of their own excesses; the circumstances of their deaths reflect the nature of their tortured souls.
Though the world is awash with sensory delights, designed to allure and excite, behind the scenes many are struggling to find their place or purpose. The culture dictates how we should impress people and look good, accumulate friends and followers and subscribe to the trends of the day. Yet it’s hard to keep up; the goalposts keep moving and we are pressured to keep the pace. You may have gained a couple of hundred Facebook friends, but what about your website presence, or your Google Plus circle? What about the pressure to fit the media stereotype of health and beauty?
The culture promises instant success – whether through purchasing a dramatic weight loss plan, buying yourself followers on Twitter, or finding your own super rich ‘sugar daddy’ to finance your dream lavish lifestyle. But once we delve deeper into the pursuit of looking great or chasing fame (both online and in person), we can find it pretty disappointing, only momentarily delivering on the outward promises of beauty or acclaim.
Like candyfloss [‘cotton candy’ to my American readers – Ed.], the culture tantalises the senses but doesn’t fulfil our deepest needs. We’re sucked into shallow or petty interactions, while missing out on more meaningful activities. At the end of the day, we are left with a sticky mess on our hands – ticket stubs in the wallet and some tagged photos on Facebook – scant evidence of our involvement in society leaving us dissatisfied, distanced from others supposed to be our friends.
Fatigue of the soul is starting to set in, and stress-based illnesses are on the increase. The excesses of the culture which demand our time, energy and adoration, are gradually leaving us feeling unfulfilled and devoid of true meaning in life. The many undeniable advantages brought to us by technology are often achieved at the expense of relational depth and community, and the young are starting to sit up and take notice. They have been saturated with all things outward; now they find themselves drawn towards that which affects the inner person. They are yearning for meaning and stability in their lives.
The shocking increase of self harm and depression among young people, as well as the rise in substance abuse and promiscuous behaviour, reflects their dissatisfaction with all the culture has to offer. Escapism is rife. Although young people have accumulated more stuff than ever before, and have greater access to wealth and opportunities, they are unhappier than previous generations of youth. Perhaps the sugary fix that’s been offered so long is no longer enough to satisfy their longings. Too much sugar, and you start to feel sick. It would seem that significant numbers are sick of the culture and are on the lookout for signs of genuine beauty and time for reflection.
The Church is ideally placed to help people shift their focus from the superfluous features defining our culture to the intangible values that truly matter. Faith, hope and love don’t need to be wrapped up or sugar coated, they just need to be shared, demonstrated and multiplied. The world is watching to see if we can offer something more substantial. Can we?
Next week I will look at the question of whether the Church is making the most of its opportunity to pour living water into the desperately thirsty souls waiting on its doorstep. I hope you’ll join me.
Annie Carter dabbles in a variety of pursuits from writing to teaching German. She’s currently near completion of her first novel, which she was inspired to write for her three sons. She loves a great debate and admits to being a little bit obsessed with technology, acquiring a range of gadgets to enable writing on-the-move. One day she might stick to one thing. For now she’ll keep going with anything that takes her interest, whether poetry, faith matters or strumming a guitar.