A walk through a graveyard put Facebook in a whole new perspective.
Myriad bloggers, academics, and coffee shop philosophers have mused on the whys and hows of social media’s rampant growth and widespread popularity over the last few years. But as I was scrolling through my old posts from 2013, thanks to Facebook’s “year in review” feature, it occurred to me: we are all just trying to be remembered. For something. For anything.
My friends’ status updates, the posts from the organizations I follow and the groups I am a part of all seem to have a common goal: leave a legacy that will be remembered. If you create a big enough following then someone will hear you and someone will pay attention. Nobody wants to die forgotten or unknown. It is natural for humans to want to do something that has a lasting effect on the world; and today this desire seems to manifest itself today so prevalently in social media. People Instagram the snapshots of their life they want remembered, they blog their deepest thoughts and feelings for someone to discover, they Facebook all their activities and post photos from memorable moments, and they tweet relevant news and events hoping someone will pay attention to them. All of it screams, “Remember me. I am here. This is what I did.”
Contrast that picture with this: Over the holiday, I went on a walk with my father and sister. We stumbled upon an old cemetery filled with hundreds of mausoleums and monuments. I observed that the largest mausoleums were not for individuals, but for entire families. The family names appeared in bold, capital letters, while the names of the individuals were significantly smaller and often hard to find. It seemed as if the deceased had found their legacy and their sense of belonging in their family. And it wasn’t just immediate family, but grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather and even great-great-uncle— generations who might never have met in this life. The mausoleums seemed to silently state, “We know who we are because we know who we belong with, and this is how we’ll be remembered.”
This cemetery strikes me as vastly different than our situation today. People try to use social media to leave their individual legacies because they don’t know who they are; they don’t know who they are within the context of their immediate families, let alone their extended families. In the past, families were the building blocks of society. Now we live in a world where individuals have become those building blocks, and they are proving to be a significantly weaker foundation. The breakdown of traditional families has caused people to lose their sense of belonging with the past and their continuance in the future. We constantly seem to scramble to do something great and lasting before we die because that’s where we think we’ll will find our identity. It’s in what we do, not in who we are or what we are a part of.
The problem is that in order to leave a legacy you must be a part of the past as well as the future. But today, we all seem to be running away from the past, doing our best to ignore it. The disruption of family life has hindered many people’s ability to have a true and rich sense of where they come from; they can see the future but they don’t look to the past because it’s full of brokenness and hurt. They tell themselves they can pave a new way and that things will be different and better for their own lives and families. But often things aren’t.
There is a type of security and assurance, which people have forgotten, that comes from being rooted in a family, a history and a place. When a society loses its rootedness like ours largely has, individuals no longer know their place in the world. They spend their lives trying to “find themselves” because they don’t have anyone who can say to them, this is who we are, this is where we’re from, and this is why it’s important. Instead we live as individuals all striving to create our own type of posterity. We don’t realize that our attempts to create it by and through ourselves alone will probably fail. No one will remember us because we, by ourselves, are not all that memorable.
So next time you’re bored and staring at your phone, why not give Grandma a ring and ask her to tell you a story about your family – about your past – instead of tweeting that latest selfie. You won’t need to think twice to know which will prove more memorable.