I had never put those two words together before: "curated self." It's the self you would carefully construct for an exhibit in and art museum. It seems Facebook has created the world's biggest museum for such an exhibit. The Globe's Kathleen Burge used the phrase in "Overblown Facebook personas can leave friends deflated" on Tuesday's front page. "Facebook and other social media allow users to present a curated self, showing friends or the public a happier or more accomplished version of a person….the gap between reality and the Facebook version can be striking, and troubling, psychologists say."
Burke cites a University of Michigan study: “The finding was the more people used Facebook, the worse they felt, and the less satisfied they were with their lives.” She also cites Sherry Turkle , professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and author of the book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other,” who said managing our online selves has grown more complex, expanding from Facebook to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms.
Apparently, even spending a little time managing your profile raises your self-esteem. But when you look at others it goes down. “During the day, you look at your noncurated self. You live with your mistakes,” Turkle said. “On Facebook, you’re always the way you want to be.”
I never made much of myself. Not long after I joined Facebook a few years ago, I found that I didn't want to take the time to create much of an exhibit (profile). But I guess there was enough of me there behind the looking glass to generate some requests for friends (which grew and grew to about 19). My friends' expanding exhibits cried out for attention via email reminders to take a look and I grew weary. I finally took my exhibit down, preferring to remain a little more of a mystery and opting for more phone calls, emails and if possible face to face meetings to connect. I was a little hurt that no one noticed I had disappeared from the universe.
The Globe story led me to give thanks for the first thing we do in worship at the beginning of each week--confession. It's there because God's presence reveals things to us. In God's clarifying presence we see things about our lives that we might not see otherwise. When Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God in the temple, his first response was confession. And it can be the same for us in our worship.
Some congregations no longer include a prayer of confession in their worship because the practice is considered too "negative." They contend that people have enough difficulties in their lives without the church adding to the burden. But confession is not about adding a burden. Quite the opposite. It is about being unburdened. There is no joy in denial. But there can be great joy in receiving forgiveness.
As Christians we don't need to traffic in denial. We can afford to be realists. We are free to face the truth about ourselves: good and bad are inextricably intertwined within us. Sometimes we act nobly, but even then our motivations can be mixed. This is not a hopeless admission. We are free to be realists because our hope is in God. In confession, we rely not on our own goodness, but on God's forgiveness. The God in whose presence we see our lives with jarring clarity at the same time shows us that we are loved, nonetheless.
Two proclaimers of God's love I know happen to have Facebook pages. One is our intern Eric Worringer (700 friends) and another is a former intern, the soon-to-be-famous-if not-already Keith Anderson (1400 friends). They use their exhibits not so much for self-promotion but to share deep and interesting things with the world. I humbly submit that they look like masterpieces to me. Look them up.