Monday, March 29, 2010

Facebook. . . Good, Bad, Ugly? . . .

I stumbled into a conversation yesterday in the hallway at our church. It was occasioned by a remark our sixty-something pastor made during his sermon about "looking around on Facebook the other day." Yep, he's got an account. . . which I'm sure suprises many who know him and bothers some. Personally, I think it's great.

The conversation had to do with some discussions that are rumored to be taking place regarding whether or not our church should have its own Facebook page. I'm all for it. Others, however, are concerned that there are too many negative implications and dangers. Knowing our congregation as I do, I'm sure there are some who think that putting up a page equals caving in to the spirit of the times. . . . maybe even the start of a dance with the Devil. If you're scratching your head over this, you don't know my church. It's a congregation I love. Much of what I love is the thoughtful and sometimes very, very slow and deliberate manner in which we think about change. At times, it's a pain in the rear-end. At other times, it forces us to pause and ask the very important questions we might not otherwise ask in the very helpful process of iron rubbing against and sharpening iron.

While I have no idea where our church will land on this one, I'm thrilled that there's conversation and discussion taking place. I've found it helpful to have those conversations with myself regarding social networking technologies and the way I - or "we" here at CPYU - choose to use them. I'm having the self-conversation now about setting up a personal Twitter account, and if and when I do, what to embrace, and what to avoid. I have these conversations with the parents I meet in my travels all the time. Many of them want me to answer with a resounding "NO!" when they ask me if they should allow their kids to have a Facebook presence. Life in today's world is complex. Technological advancements and our age-induced ignorance combines with fear of the unknown to leave us wishing sometimes that it would all go away and life would go back to the simpler way it was.

To all of you who wonder about these things along with me, here are some thoughts that I've found to be constructive and helpful.

First, Facebook and Twitter are not the problem. The problem lies with the people that use them and how they choose to use them. Theologian Albert Wolters offers us a helpful and accurate paradigm when he talks about "structure" and "direction" in his great little book, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Structure refers to the constitutional nature of the thing. In this case, the thing could be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any other digital/social networking platform. In effect, the structure is nuetral. It isn't good or bad. What happens is that people whose lives have been marred by sin choose to employ the structures. The direction has to do with the order of sin and redemption. At times, we use the structures in a direction that brings honor and glory to God when they conform to God's design and promote things that are good, true, right, and honorable. At other times - all too often because of who we are - we use the structures to glorify the world, the flesh, and the Devil by employing them in ways that distort God's design for His world. A big part of the battle is simply paying attention to our tendency to move in this latter direction because of the sin in our lives, and the consequent need to pay attention to how we use . . . well . . . anything and everything in this world.

Second, it pays to know yourself. To be honest, there are people who should stay away from this stuff because it only feeds the beast within. For example, the narcissist finds this stuff especially enticing and even helpful, as now I can further promote myself while believing that there's a growing army out there who really does care about every little detail of my life and what I'm doing with every little minute of my day. That reality makes a good case for a parent saying "yes" to this stuff, as long as there's a good dose of instruction, oversight, and accountability that teaches kids how to balance the use of the structure in the right direction. In other words, you're training them to employ something that's part of their world in a direction that brings honor and glory to God, rather than to self.

Third, be careful about playing the community card. I'm still digesting Jesse Rice's thought-provoking little book, The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community. While reading, I was reminded again that Facebook and other social networking tools allow us to carefully. . . very carefully and deliberately. . . manufacture the online self we want the world to see. Usually, it's a version of self that fails to show who I really am, while showing who I hope and want others to think I am. It's inauthentic. . . and our "entourage" usually doesn't even realize it. It's easy for insecure adolescents to get caught up in the frenzy. I wonder how it will effect their ability to be authentic and relate for the rest of their lives. Even adults with adolescent tendencies and insecurities are uniquely susceptible to falling into the trap. Add to that the fact that Facebook, Twitter, etc. are more about connection than community, and you can readily see that the kind of community fostered by these things is no replacement for real, gut-level, face-to-face suffer-through-life-together community. Don't miss the fact that these things can foster connections for people in that kind of real-life community, but it can never replace it with something that deep. I sometimes wonder if we are mistaking the marketing of self for the building of real community.

Jesus was clear on the fact that it's not what's outside of me - Facebook, Twitter, etc. - that's the problem. Rather, it's what's inside of me - my dark and sinful heart that's prone torwards all things wrong - that requires my vigilance, my attention, and His grace. I need to remember that as I endeavor to use the structures I've been given in a direction that glorifies the Giver.


Mike said...

Great post! Here's what I find interesting:

"Facebook and other social networking tools allow us to carefully. . . very carefully and deliberately. . . manufacture the online self we want the world to see"

I find that this is not unique to online sites, and may in fact be the opposite.

All of our current technologies allow us to do this. Think about the automobile. You drive over here for church...over here for work....over here to socialize...over here to buy your liquor. You can engineer your 'image' just by presenting yourself physically to the unique groups you want to. Mess it up too bad? The interstate allows you to jump in your car, move to another community and never look back.

Ever screened a call with Caller ID? Ever spent an hour carefully crafting a letter that would only take 15 seconds to say?

I think it's very hard to look objectively at technologies that we were born into. As such, I find that most of the criticisms of web-based interaction are far FAR more applicable to technologies we already have.

On the other hand, if you're active on facebook for any length of time, the real you is going to be presented one way or another. That's been my experience, at least. The image folks look fake pretty quick.

Personally, I think the community card is very valid. Communities online resemble true community far more than what we had before. ("hey how are you?" "Fine..and you?")

Anonymous said...

Walt and Mike, great posts