The Paparazzi, Facebook, and Our Need to be Known

I have been thinking recently about the seemingly growing mass of people who do things just to be noticed and known. The examples are so numerous that it is hard to decide which ones NOT to mention. Just think on some headlines over the last few months. Remember “Balloon Boy” and his parents scam to get attention by faking his accidental trip in a hot air balloon? How about “Baseball Taser Dude” who ran onto the field at a Phillies games after calling his dad and asking if it was a good idea? Then there was the copycat the next night. Add to that the countless people who still go on shows like Jerry Springer, or the whole Jon and Kate Plus Eight debacle. Then you have people who play to the paparazzi just to keep getting noticed; Lohan, Hilton, Kardashian, etc, etc. On the far more tragic side I was reminded recently that when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on a New York sidewalk the first thing he said was, “I shot John Lennon”. He wanted to be famous and the closest he could get was to be infamous.

So what is it about us that we have this growing need to be known, to the point that we do the ridiculous or even the tragic just to have our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? I think at the heart of it all it goes back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and our rebellion against God. Now before you get all distracted by the debate of whether or not Adam and Eve were real people, let’s skip past that to the lesson the story teaches regardless of the historicity of that couple. The point of the story is that human beings are in some sort of rebellion against God and this rebellion, known as sin, has had cosmos altering consequences. We have become alienated from God and from one another. That alienation has produced fear and insecurity, loneliness and shame.

You might be thinking, “Hey, we have always had alienation, fear, and insecurity. What’s different now?” What is different now is two-fold. First, there have always been other social institutions that helped us overcome our alienation and fulfill our need to belong and be known. Once upon a time the tribal group, or community, or family gave us a sense of security, identity, and purpose. We knew people and they knew us. Not simply in the informational sense of knowing, but in the deeper heart sense of knowing. It is more like the sense in Dutch and Afrikaans of “ken” as opposed to “weet”. Weet is informational knowledge, you know about something or someone. Ken is heart knowledge. It is what the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when it speaks of a longing for a new day “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The more mobile we become, the more isolated we become behind our automatic garage doors that allow us to drive into our house without speaking to neighbors, the more we sit on the back porch and not the front stoop, the more we move from place to place and job to job, the more we run the risk of being isolated and alienated and yearning for connection.

The second factor is that on top of the human element there is the divine element. During the rise of the modern era and the commitment to science as having the answers to all our problems, we put God and spirituality on the shelf. We further isolated ourselves from the needs of our soul. Eventually people began to sense that modernism and science did not have all the answers and so an outbreak of being “spiritual” but not “religious” has been sweeping western culture. Why? Because we still have the deep inner need to be known and to know, especially by something or someone greater than ourselves.

In search of that need to be known, to be significant, those already mentioned and many others have taken a decidedly neurotic path. Others have taken a more reasonable and socially acceptable route. The rise in popularity of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, is in part an attempt to stay connected or reconnect with people who are important to us. Such social media can be a great tool to keep and grow our relationships and give us a sense of place and belonging. Of course it can also fool us into thinking that we have deep and meaningful relationships just because people see our status updates and we have hundreds of friends, some of whom we have never met.

Ultimately all our efforts to connect with one another, to be known by one another, to feel like we are significant and that we matter, will fall woefully short if we do not address the root cause of that alienation. We are alienated from one another on a horizontal plane because we first became alienated on the vertical in our relationship with God. We can have all the human connections we want but until we are connected intimately with God, we will still be lacking and still looking for more. Blaise Pascal said it best; “We all have a God shaped vacuum in our soul that only He can fill”. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being known, he was speaking of the longing to be known by and to know God in as intimate a way as possible. All our searching for meaning, fame, security, belonging, and connection is at its core the result of a need to know that we are loved by God and to experience that love in deeper and deeper ways.

2 thoughts on “The Paparazzi, Facebook, and Our Need to be Known

  1. Teresa Young

    So true and very well written. I make it an almost unconscious effort whenever out in public to connect with at least one person in some way. Amazing how many times here in Florida that the connection doesn’t happen. Usually the other person who try to have a conversation with just looks at me like I am crazy. But when the connection does hit, it is awesome. You do feel validated as a fellow person on earth. I feel I am like this as I grew up in a small town in Tennessee which to this day still has a strong sense of community, something I feel is very lacking here in Florida. When someone merely even smiles at me, I feel the love of God.

  2. Yes, there is certainly more and more alienation I suppose with all this sense of self-reliance brought about by our electronic toys and such and distant traveling to and from work and the upkeep of each of our little empires so to speak, but as to Paul in the passage of 1 Corinthians, it sounds nice to put charity on the highest pedestal, but Paul was very, very long on use of his mind and very, very short on the mind of Jesus. Of course, he never knew Jesus, nor walked with him thus never “followed” him as he REQUIRED OF HIS DISCIPLES so he was NOT a disciple. I am not judging his relationship with God/Jesus, that’s not my business or capacity but I can see how he violates much of what Jesus said and intended. Jesus spoke of charity in the sense of giving to others, love one’s neighbor as (equal to) onesself, which was most applicable when he wasn’t in the flesh face to face with us(them). I shouldn’t say “us” because that is assuming he is talking to us, which in a sense he is but who is “us”? Or are we those who were among the many who listened to some of what he said publically but did not feel moved to seek to be one of his disciples? Are we those whom genetically were in that area when Jesus arrived and departed who heard about him later after he left? Or are we ancestors of those who became his disciples? He certainly spoke differently to those groups of peoples, yet it’s not that all he said could not apply to us now if we choose to rise to such occasion as best we can. That’s a side issue but an important one to consider – who was he talking to and why were there differences. But back to “charity” – what Paul lacks big time throughout his letters is how even charity is not necessarily a positive as with faith and hope if it’s not directed to enacting our best sense of the “will of Jesus/God” for us on earth – “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and a disciple is defined as someone who “deny’s self”, takes up their cross and follows him, the last two and even all three that are most pertinent when HE is face to face with us again, as to try to enact those requirements of discipleship before he is face to face with us will be like trying to earn our wings as if by a system – do this and get that when the biggest point is doing it FOR HIM as opposed to elevating ourselves before ourselves and others, one big detrimental result to all those who put themselves on pedestals as religious teachers to others. Organized religion and religion as a profession can never be in tune with God’s mind as it’s always a highly personal and more or less private matter – jesus said, when you give don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing – don’t premeditate it. There is a great deal more to consider on this.

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