Adolescence and the Pings, Not Pongs
Adolescents have been offered a license to post without any accompanying ethical framework. Is it fair to blame teens for misusing tools that didn’t exist in our childhood? If I had been given a phone with an ability to take and post pictures when I was thirteen, I would not have photographed many things to be proud of. What kinds of public mistakes would I have made if emboldened by this new possibility?
We are now all engaged in what sociologist Erving Goffman calls “the arts of impression management.” Thanks to social media, adolescents are often forced to grow up in public at earlier ages and stages. They are embarking upon an ancient challenge, to know thyself, while broadcasting each awkward step along the way. Is it fair to criticize the young for not acting more maturely? Today’s pings are just a more sophisticated version of Pong. As one of the original video games, Pong was slow, methodical, even predictable. And yet we loved it. Pong didn’t require much sophistication.
The speed could be shifted, but the rules remained the same. Hit it back. The game could be locked in place, stuck in an endless loop. One could walk away for a while and nothing would change.
Take an eye off the screen, a hand off the controller, and one may not even lose a point. Today’s teens are playing ping, not Pong. Pings are those beeps and blurps that tell us we have a new message, a new update, a new headline to consider. Pings are the notifications that float across our screen all day long. They are rooted in instant messaging and constant connection.
The Heart Bends Towards What the Eye Sees
The human heart bends toward what the eye sees. Today’s image makers fling into the world digital spectacles of sex, wealth, power, and popularity. Those images get inside us, shape us, and form our lives in ways that compete with God’s design for our focus and worship.
Image is Everything
Tennis superstar Andre Agassi was only nineteen years old when he starred in a television commercial for Canon cameras. The spot featured him in all sorts of eye-grabbing poses, a spectacle on display before the viewer’s clicking shutter. As the ad closes, he steps out of a white Lamborghini in a white suit to speak his only line: “Image”—he says with a sly smile, pausing, tilting his head down to drop his sunglasses and to reveal his serious gaze—“is everything.”
The ad caught fire. Agassi said that he heard the slogan a couple times a day, then six times a day, then ten, then endlessly. In his autobiography, he recounts his shock. The slogan stuck. He couldn’t shake it. “Image is everything” became Agassi’s image, one he spent years trying to escape. “Overnight,” he said, “the slogan becomes synonymous with me.
Sportswriters liken this slogan to my inner nature, my essential being. They say it’s my philosophy, my religion, and they predict it’s going to be my epitaph.”1 Crowds yelled the phrase at him whether he won or lost—because who needs tennis trophies when you can lose in style? The line mocked his tennis goals and minimized his athletic aspirations. It made him cynical, calloused to crowds, irritated by journalists, and eventually sickened by the public gaze. Perhaps Agassi was a victim, not so much of a scripted line but of a new impulse in the age of spectacles. Image and substance were now divorced—because that is what images are: a simulacrum, a representation, an object that makes space between appearance and substance. “In a world dominated by the image instead of the word, interior life gives way to exterior show. Substance gives way to simulation.”
An Interesting Depiction
At one point in his life, the famous modern artist Pablo Picasso was robbed in his French home. He told the police he would be happy to paint them a picture of the robbers. “And on the strength of that picture,” the French police later reported, “we arrested a mother superior, a government minister, a washing machine, and the Eiffel Tower.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Most Confused, Anxious, & Stuck Among Us
In a surprisingly honest confession, the millennial writer Veronica Rae Saron shared this interesting fact in her 2016 article for Medium:
Conversation after conversation, it has become more and more clear: those among us with flashy Instagram accounts, perfectly manufactured LinkedIn profiles, and confident exteriors (yours truly) are probably those who are feeling the most confused, anxious, and stuck when it comes to the future. The millennial 20-something stuck-ness sensation is everywhere, and there is a direct correlation between those who feel it and those who put off a vibe of feeling extremely secure.
Veronica Rae Saron, “Your Unshakable Stuck-ness as a 20-something Millennial,” Medium, December 20, 2016.
The Value Comes from the Image
The value of a US hundred-dollar bill is not based on where it has been or how it has been used. Its value is not determined by its shape, size, or color. A one-dollar bill in American currency has the same shape, size, and color as a hundred-dollar bill. If you want to know what the bill is worth, what matters is whose image is on it. George Washington’s image tells us that it is a one-dollar bill we are holding. If we have a bill with the image of Benjamin Franklin, then we know we are holding a hundred-dollar bill. How do you determine what you are worth? You need to know whose image you bear.
…How much is a crisp, clean hundred-dollar bill worth? A hundred dollars. How much is a dirty, crumpled, hidden hundred-dollar bill worth? A hundred dollars. Why? The image might be in need of restoration and cleansing, but it is still there.