So, in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Snow Queen,” the setup for the story is that the devil, disguised as the headmaster of a school for trolls — and was there ever a better setup for an analogy? — constructs a mirror that amplifies everything bad and ugly that it reflects, and refuses to reflect anything good or beautiful.
In other words, Hans Christian Andersen anticipated social media. Right down to the trolls.
The beauty of it, I suppose, is that on actual social media, you don’t even have to break the mirror. It comes pre-broken for your convenience, and is no less effective for all that. In fact, I am struck by the way that it works exactly like the shattered mirror in the story: it becomes lodged in our hearts and our eyes. It hurts us. It gets us used to accepting its distorted view of the world, and our distorted view of other people. And gradually, we forget that there was ever anything to love about them, or the world. Or, what is worse, we take only the distortions of people for reality and decide that the only way to make the world beautiful again is to get rid of those horrible people.
Further, in The Snow Queen, the only thing that still seems beautiful to the boy whose eyes and heart are distorted are the snowflakes, cold and perfect. And it seems to me that this is exactly how we react on social media: eventually, the only thing that seems beautiful to us is our causes, perfect in our imaginations. No human can measure up to the perfection we see there. And yet, like snowflakes, we will find that “causes” are ephemeral. Ever changing their details, and ready to melt at a touch, ever to be replaced by newer, more perfect causes, that will surely, this time, be the most beautiful. The most perfect.
In the story, the shards of mirror in the boy’s heart are melted by the love of his friend, a girl who braves the dangers of winter to love him. We would do well to remember that this is the only solution. But for us, we cannot melt the shards of social media in our eyes and hearts by waiting for someone else to love us (though God knows, a good person’s love can certainly ease the process). Nor, unfortunately, can we simply stop using social media — it’s too valuable a tool for that. Instead, we must have courage to hold to the truth we have faith exists and love others in spite of their apparent ugliness. Because only in that way can we discover their real — though, like all of ours, flawed — goodness.