It turns out our brains like ‘likes’. When someone likes our photos, videos, or blogs, the reward center in our brain get a boost. Serotonin levels go up; we feel good; and then, we begin to engage in patterns and start doing things that keep those likes coming.
Viki Odintcova is no exception. The Russian model has gained approximately 3.3 million followers on Instagram by posting a whole host of provocative photos. And her desire to continue to amass followers and approval continues to drive decisions and her lifestyle. They are pushing to her crazier and crazier heights. Her most recent photo and video posts crossed a line, earning a strong rebuke from the nation of Dubai (the location of her latest stunt).
Yet the line she crossed was not the one of decency. She did not accidentally reveal the swimsuit parts of her body. No, she hung out of a window located on the 73 floor of a Dubai skyscraper. And what makes the pictures even more crazy and like worthy is that Viki was supported only by her assistant. She had no harness, ropes, or safety lines. She was suspended over 500 feet by a single hand. A slip or a missed step, and Viki would have lost everything. And still she proceeded to dangle her life in an effort to win the approval of millions of people whose only connection was a insignificant click.
And I fear that Viki is not alone. Over 25% of millennials, (our current college students and young adults) expect to be famous by the time they are 30. They believe that they are noteworthy, smart, and full of good ideas. In short, the problem with our young people and the problem that drove Niki to hang off of a skyscraper are not ultimately technological. They are theological. Increasingly, our culture as Barna notes is being revolutionized by the worship of self.
Young people are increasingly seeing themselves as the best judge of the world and others. They have also decided that they are sufficient. They can find the answers to their greatest needs, problems, and challenges from within. They have the power to keep the reward center in their brain humming along. Consequently, Viki hung off the side of the building because she concluded this was the best way to find joy, fulfillment, and happiness. And, she was willing to rick everything, her beauty, her human dignity, and her very life to get it.
The way to prevent future Viki’s is not to fight back against the smart phone. Rather, we need to challenge the theological framework that is driving the culture of self. We need to share the beauty of Christ. We need to help our youth to see that a life motivated from within leads not to happiness but to misery, enslavement, and death. And in some cases as Viki has shown that death may not be far away.
And then, we need to highlight the glories of Christ. We need to teach that the truest life is found outside ourselves. It is found in a relationship with the God of the universe that is possible because his son has already died for all our sin.
As John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Jesus is the solution to the millennial quest for greatness. And if our young people do not grasp this, we can expect that Viki will not be alone. For the false religion of self, that dominates pop culture will do just what Jesus said it would do. It “will kill and destroy.”