Rob Singleton: Overliked: Crippled by Social Media
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Social media can do a lot of goodâ€”yet hamstring authenticity. Rob Singleton, author of Overliked, builds out a new way of thinking about social image.
Rob Singleton: Overliked: Crippled by Social Media
Rob: I found myself trying to be something else/trying to be other than how God shaped me and made me. How's that any different than filtering a picture? How's that any different than writing a bio of yourself that's really not you in any way, shape, or form? It's what you think people want you to be; it's what you think will get you a lot of likes. If I could do that as a pastor/if I could get caught up in that, it just scared me.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I just learned something recently that I should have known, but I didn't know before, about how our brain works.
Ann: Oh, I like these conversations.
Dave: I'm going to ask you a question; see if you can answer this: “Our brain/actually, we get a dopamine hit every time blank happens,”—fill in the blank.
Ann: “Every time a husband cleans the house.” [Laughter]
Dave: Of course, you're going to go to marriage!
Ann: I’m sure it has something to do with—
Dave: Well, the wife may get a dopamine hit, but the husband doesn’t. [Laughter] How does that work?
Ann: Oh, all of us: I'm thinking it probably has something to do with our phones, or social media, or something.
Dave: Yes; well, here's what I just learned—and we're going to talk to the author, who wrote the book that I read this in—but we get a dopamine hit when we get liked on social media: Facebook® posts, the thumbs up, a like, more followers—you name it—anything. That I didn't know; I mean, I know it feels good; but I didn't know it, actually, like lights up your brain in a way.
We've got Pastor Rob Singleton in the FamilyLife studio with us today. You’ve never been here before, have you, Rob?
Rob: No, it's an awesome place.
Dave: Yes; so welcome to FamilyLife Today!
Rob: Man, thanks for having me.
Ann: But I think that's interesting, because it really shows that all of us long to be affirmed. If we get dopamine hits from likes, it just shows like we're kind of wired to be affirmed.
Dave: Right. I want to talk to you, Rob, about that whole idea; because you wrote a book that we're talking about today called Overliked. Obviously, from the title, that can be a good thing; and it can also be too much; right?—overliked.
Rob: It's not a word in the urban dictionary; we're working on it. [Laughter] It's not a real word, but—
Dave: —it's going to be there.
Rob: —it needs to be, yes.
Dave: I love the subtitle: Finding Direction, Courage, and Meaningful Relationships in a Society Crippled by Social Media.
Dave: Okay, so where to start? Why did you decide to write about this concept of being overliked?
Rob: You know, I came up with this analogy a little while ago because of something that happened to us. We bought this house and—do you guys remember the synthetic stucco homes?
Rob: —probably 20/25 years ago. There were a lot of promises that went with these style houses and a lot of them were true. They'll/the insulation is so good they'll lower your heating bill; they'll lower your air conditioning bill. The greatest thing since sliced bread, so people were buying these houses in droves. They're pretty expensive.
At about three or four years into it, especially where it's really humid, like Florida—Florida had a lot of damage—the sealant was so good, and they put Styrofoam by the wood/the framing. It was so good that, whenever it rained, the moisture could get in there; but it couldn't get out. It's all these wonderful promises—yes, you did have lower heating costs and lower air conditioning—but the price to rebuild your house, once it rotted from the inside, was causing billions of dollars of lawsuit.
And I look back—and we were one of them; we had to literally reframe part of it when we went to sell the house—and I thought, “Man, they had some pretty high promises/lofty promises.” They've done some adjustments, and now it's a good product again.
But I thought: “Social media is like that. It's/it came out of the gate—I remember when it came out of the gate—probably 20 years ago, you had your first—
Rob: Yes; [Laughter] Myspace. I’ve still got a—
Dave: Our kids had Myspace. We’re like: “What are you doing? What is Myspace?
Rob: I laugh because she's—
Dave: ’90s; right; ‘90s.
Rob: Maybe even/yes, early. I did a spoof boy band/Christian spoof thing on there. The thing about Myspace is it's out there; you can't get rid of it. [Laughter] I think: “I hope nobody ever finds that boy band thing.” It was just a joke if you find that thing.
Ann: Oh, that makes me want to go searching for it.
Rob: [Laughter] So it was pretty bad; it was pretty cheesy.
Dave: Well, I mean, even when you think of your title, Overliked, we all want to be liked.
Dave: So there's nothing wrong with that, but where does it go sort of south?
Rob: Well, I mean, that's part of the promises. The promises are you’re going to connect; you're going to find more friends than you ever dreamed of. If families moved away, you can talk with them anytime you want.
Then there were some other promises, that I don't even know why these ever sounded good. Here's one: instant feedback. That's a promise I thought: “Wow, that be great.” Really, think about that: “Is that great?”
Ann: Exactly; it's great when you get something positive.
Rob: Yes; but how about instant feedback, like: “You're a loser,” “That was stupid.”
Rob: I think a lot of pastors/I think a lot of everybody—including, I think, New York Times did a story on Facebook, about a year ago, how much damage it was doing to young girls, who were—and Instagram®—who were getting their self-image—and when it wasn't coming back positively—it's just how serious it can get—you know, lonely, detached, even suicidal/even suicides, especially in young gals.
To say the wheels are coming off of these great promises is kind of an understatement, but they're still good. One of the first things I say in there is that I'm not anti-technology, at all. I'm just pro-authenticity. God wants the real you to come out, not some manufactured version you put out there, because you think it’s what people want/it's what they want to see.
Dave: We watched, early in the pandemic, The Social Dilemma movie came out. Did you see that?
Dave: —which was sort of what you're saying. It's like: “Here's the good, but if you're not careful, this desire to be liked and affirmed”—which is a natural good thing—“can really lead you to trouble, so you have to navigate that whole thing.”
Rob: I did a series called “Beyond the Optics,” probably nine or ten years ago, following this whole thing. Even when it was relatively new, I could see some of the dangers. Obviously, I didn't see that special until probably about a year ago; but it was pretty affirming. I mean, when I watched that, I thought, “Wow, here's a secular media company putting out these dangers and all.” And yes, you could see/anybody who was honest, they could see that coming.
Ann: One of the things you talk about is: “What is real?” Some of your stats I was astounded by. First, 60 percent of the world’s population has a cell phone—that's not surprising—while 90 percent of millennials engage regularly in social media; that's a lot. And then 22 percent say they have no friends at all. Were you surprised by that?
Rob: That last part I was.
Ann: Yes, me too.
Rob: Who would keep, you know, pushing those buttons, and keep going after it when at the end of the day they're saying: “This hasn't delivered at all; I have no friends”? And yet, it can draw you in so much that—I mean, you ever do something that promised to deliver something, and when it doesn’t, you just try harder?
Rob: You just push even more, and you go, “Wait, what's the definition of insanity?—doing the same thing over and over.” We're doing that with social media. We're thinking: “It's not working for me, but it works for Kim Kardashian; so obviously, it works. Let me just try harder.” And, you know, it's even more detrimental the harder you push in.
Ann: Do you think we're thinking: “We will feel less lonely”; but as a result, we are more lonely?for our teens and kids.
Rob: Yes; I mean, we're waiting for it to deliver on a promise it can't keep. It can't keep that promise. There's some real biblical implications; I get into that, tracking the life of King Saul and the life of King David; because that's what I did in that series years ago, “Beyond the Optics.”
Optics has become a real big word. Here's where it really took off, maybe eight/nine years ago. Somebody would say something; and then cancel culture would start to come along, in the early days, and go, “Hey man, did you really think about the optics of what you just wrote?” And what they're saying is: “Did you really think about where this is going?—what this could lead to?” You know, you’re being cancelled before canceled culture was even a thing.
But what they're saying is: “You just put out”—and it could be a photo; it could be a paragraph; it could be—"You just put something out, the optics of which could ruin you, when you should be putting out something, the optics of which will make people like you/will get you those returns, or those thumbs up, or whatever.”
And then I thought, “Wow; optics are powerful, but they're really shallow.” That's why we did this ten-week series on the life of King Saul/King David, which is “Beyond the Optics.”
- The whole idea is that King David: he lived beyond the optics, because he lived from the heart.
- King Saul lived for nothing but optics. Everything for King Saul was: “How do I look?” “How popular?” “How are the songs going?” “How are the poems going?” “How's the social media of thousands of years ago?” “How's the feedback? I'm not getting likes, since this guy David came along.”
Ann: He [David] got way more likes.
Rob: Yes, he got/it's really an old story of how powerful this people-pleasing thing can be, even when you have no social media.
What I'm trying to say is that: “Introduce social media, and this age-old problem”—and I mean, age-old like Garden of Eden old—“is on steroids.” I mean, it's just magnified so much with social media.
Dave: I remember preaching on that in my church, years ago—that whole thing—I don't know where it is in Samuel. I think it's in Samuel, where it says Saul killed thousands; but David killed tens of thousands
Ann: The song that was—
Dave: Yes; and I said, “The women sang this song”; so I went over to the piano in the middle of my sermon. Here it is.
Ann: He's going to pull out his guitar.
Dave: I remember I just was like: “Well, they said it was a song.” So I said, “You know, I went back in the Hebrew and I figured out what their singing was like [singing]: ‘Saul killed his thousands but David ten thousands. All the women said: “David, you're the man,” “You're the man,” Saul killed his thousands, but David ten thousands. All the women said “David, you're the man.”’”
Ann: “You’re the man,—
Dave: Then I made all the women: “You’re the man, David; you’re the man.
Dave: No; [Falsetto] “You’re the man, David.” [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, I say that every day anyway, David.
Dave: “You’re the man; David, you’re the man.” Anyway, that's optics; right?
Rob: That's absolutely it. [Laughter] Never heard it put that way; but yes, that's optics.
Dave: That’s how it was in the original. [Laughter]
But I mean, it is true; because in some ways, we value optics more than authenticity/like what's real. We want to project an image: “This is who I am,” “This is who my family is,” “This is what my marriage looks like,” even though it may not be authentic to what's really happening. But man, it seems like our world values the visual: “This is what I hope is real.” You call it optics.
Ann: And yet, Dave, here's the crazy thing is—the Millennials and Gen Z—what they're longing for is authenticity. What they're longing for is authenticity.
Rob: Yes, absolutely.
Ann: Like when they/they're longing for us to be real.
Dave: You're laughing; why is that? Why is that chuckle?
Rob: Because their filter’s the greatest filter of any generation that has ever lived. I mean, they can smell inauthenticity ten miles away.
Rob: And yet, and I hate to say it, the ironic thing is that they're getting caught up in this more than anyone. They can see it in everybody else; but it's hard as ever, if not more so, for them to see it in themselves. It's how big of a trap this is.
Ann: Maybe that's why they long for it so much because, as consumers, they're living a world that isn't real; so they're longing for people to be real.
Dave: So as you looked at this whole phenomena, you're like: “I’ve got to write a series as a pastor”; so you're doing ten weeks on this. And now, writing a book, to say: “I want to say what about this?”
Rob: Well, you know, I wrote the series when I was still at a pretty large church in North Carolina. It's what happened after that series, to me personally, that made me turn it into a book. And that's because I got caught up in it myself.
People came to town. I remember, when I first started this church, there were eight people in our in our living room; and it grew. It grew to a couple campuses and thousands of people. So many people are getting saved; it was a joy and a blessing to pastor these people.
Then a couple other churches came to town, but they blew up; they grew. And I think what I got caught up in is: “You know, maybe I need to do a little bit more of what they're doing.
Rob: “Maybe I need to preach a little more this way.”
Here's what I'm doing: I found myself trying to be something else/trying to be other than how God shaped me and made me. How's that any different than filtering a picture? How's that any different than writing a bio of yourself that's really not you in any way, shape, or form? It’s what you think people want you to be and it's what you think will get you a lot of likes.
If I could do that as a pastor/if I could get caught up in that—I thought, you know, spending my time with the Lord in the morning, just really pressing in, I could still get caught up—it just scared me. It scared me, because social media was growing at such a rapid pace. This was, like I said, about ten years ago. I just/God put a burden on my heart to sort of write a book that's almost futuristic. I think going through it myself and realizing that, absolutely anybody and everybody, can get caught up in this.
Ann: Well, you talked about how you saw the effects after you did this series. What were people talking about? What happened?
Rob: It was a great thing; because I saw a little mini revival, really. When we did the series, it was still fresh enough and young enough, but obvious enough, for people to hear this and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I saw a lot of changes with people in the church; I think they saw a lot of changes with me. People were more interested in really knowing God, and spending time with God, and spending time with one another in their small groups and authentic relationships. I felt good.
Rob: I felt like this was getting people back to authentic relationships and deeper meaning; but you know, a few years later, I'm wrestling with it again. I mean, this is almost like—I forget where in the Bible/I forget the exact verse, where it said that sin is crouching, waiting.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Rob: Oh, He said it to Cain.
Rob: God said it to Cain and that hasn't changed. Sin is always crouching, always waiting. You feel like you can defeat something and really put it in perspective; but if you're not staying and abiding in the Lord—John 15—and really staying—
Rob: —connected daily, it's right there, waiting.
Dave: I think we can do it in our marriages and family as well. You know, it's like—
Ann: —the drift.
Dave: —the optics of you are comparing your church or you as a pastor to another pastor down the street who seems to be having great success or great fruit.
We do the same thing. I mean, we've said it here many times: for decades, in my marriage, Ann kept wanting me to be like the founder of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey. [Laughter] I heard it every day: “Why can't you be more like Dennis?”
Rob: Because every wife wants—
Ann: I don't think I said it; I just alluded to it.
Dave: Every once in a while, I felt it; you know, because she said it a few times. But there was a part of me that started to think: “I've got to lead Ann. I've got to be in our family like Dennis is in his family.” Of course, all we know about Dennis is from a distance, so it looks much more perfect than it/than he would even say it was. But I felt that tension: “The optics looked like this; the reality is this. I need to be somebody I'm not.” Did you struggle with that?
Rob: [Laughter] Oh my goodness, yes. I mean, I think back before/I think about the days, going to the Purpose Driven Conference with Rick Warren.
Dave: Rick Warren, sure.
Rob: I mean, he will tell you, right out of the gate: “Hey, don't go back home and try to do this,” and “You're not Rick Warren.” Remember when he used to say: “When you get to heaven, God’s not going to say, ‘Why weren’t you more like Billy Graham?’ or ‘Why weren’t you…’ He'll say, ‘Why weren't you more like yourself?’” That really stuck with me because He's saying: “Why weren't you more authentically you?—the one that I created you to be?”
Still, I heard that, and I found myself going back, trying to preach like Rick Warren; and these were the real early days. You’re really trying to find out who you are anyway. I thought, “Well, this…”—some of it can be an excuse, and you're trying to learn; but it can very quickly turn into: “You know, you're not developing the gifts God gave you. You're not going deeper into who you are,” because it's just too easy to imitate somebody else.
Your listeners might hear that and go: “Well, I'll keep that in mind; that's a trap.” It's much more dangerous than just a casual thing. You can live your life as somebody else. And what a tragedy that would be to stand before God and not be who you're supposed to be.
Ann: I'm just thinking, with social media, it's so easy just to get lost in it. You know, you're scrolling/you're liking. I just was listening to Kristi McLelland—we've had her here—she's a great Bible teacher. I heard her encouraging a younger woman in discipleship, saying, “I would challenge you to spend more time in God's Word, in growing spiritually, than you do in social media.” She said this to a teenage girl.
As I listened to that, I thought, “What would that look like for all of us?” Like think about how easy it is just to be done at the end of the day, and you're so tired; what do we do? We'll sit down and watch a show, or we'll watch Netflix®, or—
Dave: —Tiger King.
Ann: [Laughter]—or we’ll watch—
Dave: No, we didn't watch that; but—
Ann: —or we're just on our screens, you know, because we're tired.
I thought, “Wouldn't it be interesting if we gauge the amount of time we spend on social media? We gauged it on how much time we've already been in the Word, and we wouldn't spend more time in social media than we had in the Word.” We would be different, you guys.
Dave: Put a timer on it almost.
Ann: I'm not kidding. I remember going through that—working out—where I thought, “Why do I always get a workout in, but I always don't get my time with God in?”
Rob: That’s a fair question; that's a good one to ask.
Ann: Yes. And they're both good, but the better would be spending time with God. So now, I'm spiritually strong; but fatter. [Laughter] But I'm just saying like we are all going to drift away from God if we don't spend more time with Him, and we find out who we truly are the more time we spend.
Dave: And Rob, is that how you win this battle? Is it a time thing?
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Rob Singleton on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear his response in just a minute.
Ever wonder about where that line is in between what's constructive criticism and words that tear down? I love what Ann has said; she said, “How many times have I used my words to tear Dave down and to destroy him, thinking I was helping him and doing good, when all the time I had this power of influence to be able to speak life into him?”
Wow! Could your relationship use a shift towards using words to respect and cherish each other? Well then, check out our marriage studies at FamilyLifeToday.com and use the code, “25OFF,” to save today and beef up your communication so your marriage becomes more life-giving to both of you. Again, use the code “25OFF.”
Alright; now back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Rob Singleton.
Rob: I always land the plane on the runway of spending more time with Jesus. You know, it doesn't matter what I'm preaching about, it's going to end up there. And as I go through the Gospels, I thought, “Wow! We are over complicating this.” I mean, if you really look at the 24/7 three years that Jesus spent with His disciples, it was all about spending time with Him. If you do, eventually, the Lords going to rub off on you.
Rob: I don't remember signing up for this; but every morning, this thing pops up. You know, once a week at least, it pops up and says: “You spent”—I don't know—“five hours a day [online].”
Ann: It’s the scariest thing ever.
Dave: You know, when it—
Rob: Where’s it coming from?
Dave: You know, when it comes up—does it come up for you?—it came up every Sunday morning, while I'm at church. I'm getting ready to go up on stage and preach—
Rob: —the most convicting time.
Dave: —and I look down—and I’m like, “I didn't need to know that.” I just spent, you know, 36 more minutes this week than I did last week, which was seven hours. I mean, it's depressing; but it is a good indicator.
Rob: If you want to be honest—and this is about authenticity—if that pops up and says you're averaging four hours a day or something; and you tell her, “I don't have a problem. I maybe spend 30 minutes.” No, you don't; you spend four hours a day.
How many hours/well, how many minutes did you spend in the Word? How many minutes did you spend? And if they are not on the same planet, you're going to have a problem.
Ann: Yes: “What’s shaping you?”
Dave: Hey, you know what? Do it right now.
Dave: Let's find out.
Rob: I don't even know where to go.
Dave: You go to settings.
Ann: I don’t have my phone.
Dave: Oh, look at you: “I don't have my phone.” Settings: look down there; you'll see screen time.
Ann: I don’t, actually.
Rob: Screen time; yes.
Dave: Yes; see it? Alright; you go first. Daily average: you see it?
Rob: Where? Where's the daily?—there's a line going across. Yes, I'm at like four hours. Now, good news—today is—I'm at like 20 minutes.
Dave: Yes; so am I.
Ann: There you go!
Dave: Today is really low. Look at that: down 77 percent from last week.
Rob: Mine’s down 44 percent, getting ready for this interview.
Dave: I'm at 5 hours and 26 minutes daily; that's terrible.
Rob: Yes; so about the same. Hey, can I put a disclaimer for my son on here; because he's going to be laughing his head off right now. So one of the things I'll do is I'll listen to the Bible on audible.com; I love doing that.
Ann: Me too.
Rob: Sometimes, I'll go to bed, listening to praise music or audible.com. My son was like, “How come yours is higher than mine, Dad? So we went back and tracked this thing. Audible, if I fall asleep with that in my ear, it'll play all night. It'll/so full disclaimer: I, at least, have that—
Ann: Way to go.
Rob: —going on my screen time, yes. I need to probably get an authentic answer by not sleeping with that.
Dave: Well, if there's anything that I've heard today—and I've heard a lot—I think where we ended is something I want to look at. I would encourage husbands and dads, and moms and wives, and even our kids, like: “What is the balance in your life between opening truth/the Word of God and allowing that in and allowing the other?” And a lot of it is lies and distortions from—and I’m not saying social media is bad—but you got to have a balance.
Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinks, so he is.” Whatever we're putting in our mind to think about: that’s how we're going to live as a husband, as a dad, as a mom, as a wife. So all you got to do is play it back and say: “What am I meditating on? It's going to determine how I live.” So today, could be a day to say: “You know, it's time to change that.”
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann with Rob Singleton on FamilyLife Today. Rob's book is called Overliked: Crippled by Social Media. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Also, all this month, when you help reach more families with God's truth by giving to FamilyLife, we want to send you a copy of Jennie Allen's book called Find Your People. It's our thanks to you when you give this month at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Rob Singleton and help us to refocus our attention on what's most important. That's tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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