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Rob Singleton on “Overliked” versus Living Authentically

The Good and the Bad

Pastor Rob Singleton is quick to acknowledge that social media, when rightly used, can result in much good. As he says in Overliked, “This book isn’t anti-technology; it’s pro-authenticity. This book isn’t saying social media is bad. It’s saying the real you is better. Yes, it’s great to be alive today. Yet, it can feel fake to be alive today. Sometimes that virtual connectedness can leave us feeling completely disconnected and alone.” His title refers to the fact that people place far too much stock in how many “likes” they garner on social media sites. And Christian people, he says, are no less susceptible to making that mistake.     

Rob explains a number of potential dangers of social media; among them, looking for acceptance from people versus God, and the focus on oneself to the point of narcissism. As to the former, he says people look to social media to be an inclusive, supportive, online community, but it usually fosters competition, comparison, jealousy, anxiety, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out). He says the disconnection people feel with others and even within themselves is a blinding aspect of technology. “It is designed to help you go wide, but not deep. We’re seeing more and more people who have 500-plus Facebook friends but no one to hang out with on the weekends.” Rob shares a quote from USA Today, which reported that millennials between the ages of 18 and 24 are four times more likely to feel lonely “most of the time” compared to people over 70.  

Another danger of social media that Rob points out is its propensity to make us focus on ourselves. This is evidenced by “selfie” photos and carefully-designed (and often false) images, or optics. “Harvard University researchers learned that self-disclosure on social media lights up the brain just the same as addictive chemicals,” he states. “On social media, people talk about themselves 80 percent of the time, but if you were talking in real life, it would only be 30 or 40 percent. When people reveal themselves on social media and get a “like,” it perpetuates the social media habit.”      

Optics: What is Real?

The main goal of social media users, Rob believes, is creating and projecting images which give a desired impression, whether or not it is based in truth. “This focus on appearances is optics,” he explains. “Optics is the word you’ve heard all over the media to describe how good or bad something appears.” Rob says that people have come to prefer appearances more than the facts, reality, and truth, which can be tough to face. “In a world where optics trump all three, it seems like an acceptable compromise to many to bend the truth sometimes for the more comfortable purpose of presenting more favorable personal optics,” Rob states. “We witness this on the news, political websites, and reading people’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter rants.  And we do this in pictures, text, and even in what we say in conversations.”  

The danger in this heavy focus on optics, Rob believes, is that people are losing touch with who they really are. “Today’s message is clear,” he says. “How you look and how you are perceived actually determine who you are.” He lists some of the many areas in which perception has replaced reality:

  • Appearing as if we’re having a good day is more important than admitting we need help. 
  • Political correctness is more important, and believable, than truth. 
  • Ideology is more important than history.
  • Spin is more important than accuracy.      
  • Group identity is more important than who you actually are.
  • Readership is more important than correct reporting. 

Real Love 

“At our core, people are made for authentic, life-giving relationships,” Rob says. “Every human on the planet wants a good friend – or seven.” He believes that what people are hoping to find in online “relationships” and communities can only be found in real, face-to-face friendship. Quoting a Psychology Today article, he lists five traits that most cultures value in a true friend: trustworthiness, honesty, dependability, loyalty, and the ability to trust others. “A good friendship is life-changing,” he says. “Research has found that true friendship has a ton of benefits. It can extend your lifespan, keep you healthy, and help your mind stay sharp. Friends help you navigate life’s struggles and cope with rejection. And a true friend can help you fulfill your destiny.”  

The truest friend that could ever be is, of course, God, Rob emphasizes. “You were made for true connection, not just for ‘likes.’ When you ‘friend’ God, connect with Him, pursue Him, you will find, like David and Jonathan did, that the depths of His love for you are endless and ageless. He wants to move you beyond the pseudo-family and ‘friends’ of an avatar world and make you truly family. He already has a place at the table for you. And you will know, deep in your gut, that He is with you to the end of the line.” 

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