Facebook and true community

In his book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr makes this observation:

The intellectual ethic of a technology is rarely recognized by its inventors…Ultimately, it’s an invention’s intellectual ethic that has the most profound effect upon us.

Which led me back to page through Andy Crouch’s Culture Making to dig a little deeper. Like Carr, Crouch argues that the inventors of technology rarely, if ever, think all the way through the implications of their inventions. Good or bad, that seems to be the way it is. Thus, the role of discernment falls to the users of the invention, who are generally much too wrapped up in the awesomeness of this new thing(!) to think deeply through how this thing(!) will change them.

So. Now we’re a few years into our grand facebook experiment and I’d like us to join the conversation about what it’s actually doing to us, how the technology we use is using us, good and bad. Though it was reported this week that Facebook, while continuing to gain users, is also losing users–6 million in the US this year–its cultural power requires our attention.

Here’s one theory for discussion: Facebook promises community but can only provide the shallowest version of it. Yes, it’s a great place to make connections, get information out, share some links or pictures–but it isn’t (and can’t be) the type of community and fellowship necessary to our thriving.

To my eyes, the impossible hurdle for true community on facebook is that its very scope prevents us from being real. When my life in pastoral ministry is particularly difficult, I can’t very well go on facebook to talk about it. When I find myself distant from God, when my kids are repeatedly proving the doctrine of original sin…those are things not fit for public broadcasting. But they are things important to talk about with people I can trust. It’s with those people that we find true community.

So while facebook is a good communication tool and (let’s be honest) entertaining, we use it best when we use it for what it does well, while finding our need for relationships outside the binary world.

4 Comments

  1. Adam Kuehner June 23, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Good thoughts — thanks for sharing. This is an ongoing question that we all need to ponder with self-examination. Wish I had some answers to contribute, but right now I’m still in the pondering stage 🙂

  2. Barry York June 23, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Jared,

    Thanks for the post. I agree that FB is great for information sharing among friends of especially the happier times of life, but it ill-unsuited for the development of deep relationships though it can give the illusion of such.

    The video below demonstrates this in a humorous albeit a bit creepy way. I saw it on, uh, Facebook.

  3. Lisa O June 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    I would go a step further to say that Facebook (and other social media) have the potential to break down true community in at least three ways:
    1. They (like anything else) take an investment of time and energy that is directed away from face-to-face interaction.
    2. They provide an type of social satisfaction that keeps us from feeling a need for face-to-face interaction.
    3. They change the way we interact in face-to-face situations. Peggy Orenstein In her article called “I Tweet, Therefore I Am” wrote how an experience changes for her when she knows she’s going to tweet about it. She describes it as part of her conscious splitting off and observing a scene from the outside. Each possible description, she wrote, was “not really about my own impressions: it was about how I imagined – and wanted – others to react to them.”

  4. Jeffery Tilton June 25, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    It seams to me that much of the world has jumped into social networking with reckless abandon. Just as language develops over time so does the common approach and use of this, as of yet, novel technology. Consideration, indeed, needs to be given as to how the participation in this type of network effects us as well as those we know and interact with. Alexander Pope, in his Essay on Criticism, pined the now famous words “For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.” Does it not seam as though this is the approach of numerous people, Christians included, towards this type of invention? Interesting to me, Pope worked several years on this poem (an amazing amount of time by today’s measure) as a process or exercise in forming and refining his convictions as a poet and critic. His diligence in reflecting and refining in that arena is not often repeated today in the arena of cyber life, even by people that are otherwise quite thoughtful.
    Rather than working with diligence at “bringing every thought captive” we often become lemmings. Allowing the culture, instead if the scriptures, to dictate our actions. Jared, thank you for the thoughtful post and for cultivating a much needed forum for reflection.

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