My Love/Hate Relationship With Facebook

The following blog is completely a rant.  It’s not at all related to Anabaptism, but I just felt like including it because it raises some questions I have about the whole Facebook culture.  I really would love to continue dialoguing about this with others to hear your opinions and thoughts.  Is Facebook a necessary evil or is it actually a ministry tool?  Does adding congregants as friends truly enhance your ministry or does adding students truly enhance your approach to teaching?  Does Facebook detract at all from how people preceive you both in and out of the pulpit? Personally, I’ve noticed a sharp difference between how peers and church members view facebook and how more professional people do.  I’ve also noticed a marked difference between how my university saw facebook and how people who are currently in my life view it.  I’d love for you to be part of this on-going discussion by commenting on this blog or sending me a personal email at: deborahruthferber@gmail.com.

I also apologize for this disjointedness of this post – it was written at 2am.

Facebook.  One of the most common addictions, one of the best ways to keep in touch, and one of the fastest ways to get you into trouble.  Facebook definitely does have many good features to it: a chance to connect with acquaintances and stay updated on their lives in ways that past generations never were able to do.  It offers a chance for users to upload and view hundreds of pictures as a virtual photo album – really, how many people would come over to your house and pour over the yellowed pictures?  It also offers potential for dialogue.  On my Facebook page I have posted thoughtful quotes, excerpts from books I am reading, denominational news, and even occasionally real news clippings.  Another feature I love about Facebook are the groups – I am part of several groups which keep me updated on all the happenings in Canada (even when I am away in school), sometimes these groups even have some rigorous dialogue going on – I, for one, have discussed on my Mennonite and Tyndale groups many subjects related to homosexuality, youth and the church, and gender issues with many pastors and other leaders.  I have to say – I have learned way more from them than I have contributed, and sometimes I have even changed hardened beliefs because of their thoughtful and persistent dialoguing.  Facebook has also introduced me to some of my distant relatives who I have never met in person and to some of the Mennonerds I blog with – even though I haven’t met them live, it has been a way of introducing ourselves to each other.

I am a Facebook junkie.  I never bring my laptop to class because I know that it will just distract me and I will be on FB the whole time, but I have been known to scroll down my page and pick out random wall photos for use in class projects.  Occasionally, I even go back to FB after class because I will say something like “hmm.. someone wrote something on FB about this” or “one of my FB groups was talking about this” or “I remember that I put a certain quote on FB from the readings for this week because it just inspired me that much.”  Admittedly, I spend too much time on Facebook which anyone who has me added as a friend will notice.  I have spent increasingly more time on it in grad school, though, when I was away from my friends and this was the only real connection I had to home.  When they started posting pictures of poutine – I started drooling :).

Even though I believe there are so many good things about Facebook, I have been noticing that there are a few not so great features about it.  1) Facebook is very addictive.  In all honesty, Facebook is actually kind of boring.  Sure, I love looking at wedding pics for weddings I was never invited to, and I legitimately am happy for my acquaintances who get married and are having children.  Especially when I am far away from friends and don’t get to see their children growing up, I love to track their progress online.  But in all honesty, what’s the point of scrolling down a newsfeed for hours?  I do it because it is a mindless exercise.  I suppose I should be committed to working out, gardening, or some other useful venue, instead, I spend it doing something that won’t require me to think.  I noticed this especially when I was in seminary.  When I was at Tyndale, we were young mostly adventure seekers who didn’t have a family and just wanted to have a fun time when we weren’t in class.  Sure, I was on Facebook quite a bit then as well, but after a long day of class we had activities.  Monday night our women’s prayer group met from 9:30-11pm, Tuesday we had dorm event from 9:45-midnight, Wednesdays tended to be student council event evenings, Thursday I volunteered teaching ESL at a local church, and weekends we usually had activities.  So all in all, I was busier just having fun.  After a long day at seminary, you may find that you have no energy left to read or write anything so you want to do something mindless.  Since you don’t have a TV, Facebook seems to be a good option.  Before you know it, two hours have passed and you have done nothing other than look at feeds.

2) My personal pet peeve with social media is that once you get into using one service you find that you are using all of them.  When I was 16, I very begrudgingly signed up for Facebook because I wanted to see pictures from a trip.  Back then, I limited myself to only my closest friends and tried not to put much personal information online (my first profile picture was me wearing a hat so you couldn’t even really see my face that well).  Over time, I gradually began to loosen up on Facebook, giving into the culture which posts every little thing about their day.  Since then, I have recently added Twitter because it is helpful in competitions and in the blog world.  I also check my email several times a day and look at all my favourite blogs.  In a way, it is so time consuming, and yet so addictive.

3) Facebook gives a false sense of security.  Many counselors say something like the average person only has about 5-15 really close friends. If you have even 10 really close friends count yourself fortunate and blessed.  On Facebook, everyone is called a “friend” whether they stood up in your wedding, share everything with you, were your college roomate, or were just someone that you met once at another friend’s party.  Sometimes you might never even have met them.  I’m not saying it’s bad to add acquaintances or people you don’t know at all.  In fact, I have sparked up some really good friendships that way, have shared in dialogue with them, or they have helped me get directions.  I’m just saying that in reality, the average person doesn’t really have 500 or 1000 or 5000 friends, but on Facebook it makes it appear that way.  I used to have close to 1000 friends then I ended up getting tired of that false sense of popularity so I narrowed it down to people that I actually talked to and had a connection with.  I still have way more “friends” than I do in reality, but I am tempted to become one of those people who has a really tight facebook with only their closest peers on it… though I haven’t gotten to that place yet.

4) People judge you based on your “Facebook persona” which can perhaps be a good thing or a bad thing.  Apparently from a psychological point of view, people are more honest on Facebook than they are on the phone or in person.  Perhaps this is because when something is online it is “traceable” or because they feel that since they are not really confronting the person face-to-face they can be more honest and open about their true feelings (especially when those feelings may be confrontational or controversial).  If you scroll down someone’s Facebook page, you probably get a good idea of who they are in about 1 or 2 minutes of doing so.  Their pictures, posts, likes, and comments really bring out who they are.  Unfortunately, this is also a negative thing.  For one, it can give you an impression of someone before you even meet them without giving them a chance to defend themselves.  My first encounter of this was in a job situation where my potential employer informed us all that she would not consider our applications unless we had added her as a friend and joined her facebook group.  In some ways, this might have been a good idea.  The job was for a rather conservative Christian camp and so she likely wanted to check our Facebook to see if we used vulgarities, showed pictures of us drinking, or added inappropriate content.  In some ways, I wish the other camp I worked for would have had that type of strictness… because some of what those counselors were putting on Facebook was pretty raunchy.  On the other hand, some would argue that that is an infringement of personal information.  What is in your private life deserves to be in your private life, and what is in your work life is in your work life.  Unfortunately, even if you have the highest security settings on Facebook, once something is shared on the web, it is no longer private property but is public.  I still remember back in my pre-Facebook days when I discovered my picture was on FB even though I hadn’t even added it – I was actually kind of ticked.

So, I think that there are definitely some advantages to Facebook, for example it’s a very quick and easy way for people to mass invite you to parties.  Some of my friends who have gotten rid of Facebook have found that since deleting it, they have missed out on social gatherings not because people didn’t want to invite them, but because they were overlooked since they weren’t in the “friend’s list”.  Facebook is also a great tool for connecting with youth – when I did one of my short pastoral summer internships, I spent quite a bit of office time on Facebook just connecting with the youth because I knew they wouldn’t respond as well to an email or phone call.

Facebook also has some definite disadvantages and raises some questions.  One disadvantage would be that some people don’t really understand the culture of Facebook.  On Facebook sarcasm is harder to pick up on (I’ve had people offended on other people’s behalves), the context of the joke can be lost if it took place in person (there’s a lot of online joking going on), it can also be a platform for bullying.  It raises a lot of questions like: who should you really have as your Facebook friends?  Should you add employers and co-workers (knowing that lots of people have been in trouble with their jobs because of it)?  Should you add professors or staff from your school or university?  I think that largely depends upon the type of job and school that you are a part of and who the people you are employed with or have as teachers are.  Personally, I can see it going both ways.

At Tyndale, I only added select professors and a several of our staff members.  It worked out well because people at Tyndale were used to this culture that unfortunately feeds off of “being the center of attention” online.  Face it – Facebook is largely a self-seeking/self-gratifying device.  Tyndale understood sarcasm, understood that face to face interaction was more important and never judged us based on what we said online (unless we did something which was against the school codes or that didn’t represent them in a good light).  If something was questionable, our professors were really nice in telling us what it was as soon as we posted it – within minutes it would likely be gone.  Tyndale professors also used Facebook to create student groups and post relevant materials and information, to engage with dialogues of interest outside of class (such as on topics of evangelism and mission), and sometimes just to stay connected.

Not all schools are that open or welcoming of Facebook.  Some schools will judge you based more on what you post on Facebook than who you are in the classroom.  Some professors will judge your blog posts the same way as they will grade your assignments.  That can be a good or a bad thing.  It could potentially be good because it makes you have integrity.  It is also bad because if the school doesn’t understand the culture of Facebook you will find yourself getting very frustrated.

The truth is that Facebook always needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s a place where people let their guard down, let loose, rant and rave about whatever they feel like at that moment.  Sometimes they might have a serious thought to contribute, other times it might be something boring and uneventful.  Facebook is not usually a place for self-actualizing, deep self-awareness, sharp critical thinking, the testing out of philosophical ideas, or being the most mature person on the planet.  There are a few Facebook groups that I am a part of which have components like that – they are places where I do talk about politics, economics, social change, and everything else.  However, Facebook, by and large, is just another social place for “virtual hanging out”.

I sometimes think that the whole Facebook culture has got it a little messed up.  We’re not actually the center of the universe so we probably don’t need to make it seem like the world revolves around us.  In that sense, Facebook is a place where people in their thirties and beyond still sometimes act like these teenagers who make everything about them.  On the other hand, it can also get frustrating to hear people say, “You’re not like this in person, but on Facebook you like to be the center of attention” or “when you write a paper/journal/blog you show a greater maturity, reflection, or self-awareness than you do when you are making a Facebook post.”  I would sure hope so.  Facebook is not the same as writing a journal.  Sure, my generation grew up posting everything “Going out to eat”, “eating pizza”, “going for a jog”, etc, but Facebook is not the place where you are going to wrestle with life’s deepest theological and philosophical problems, tell the world the many ways you’ve seen growth in yourself, share about your deepest feelings, or the gigantic fight you just got into with your significant other.  Some people may use Facebook for those purposes, and that is their decision, but most people do not.  Many people do, however, use Facebook to “get ahead” in a way, whether they admit it or not.  I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but if you scroll down many people’s feeds you notice they are sharing about themselves and that is because one only lives their own experience.  Facebook is not the place where you talk about random people, it’s a place where you share only about yourself and the people who are closest to you (like how proud you are of your child, spouse, significant other, or best friend).

So, in all of this, my admonition would be for people not to take Facebook as seriously.  Facebook is definitely a very helpful tool in communicating, connecting, networking, and marketing.  It’s a great way to meet people and get to know them in a deeper way than before the internet came along.  Some people even begin dating or grow closer in a dating relationship because of it.  It can also be harmful and damaging if not used correctly.  Words have been said that aren’t able to be retracted, relationships have been damaged because of it, and some people have even lose their jobs due to it.  Personally, I am a huge fan of Facebook and I have been really encouraged by many people at my church who tell me that when I am away it is the only way they keep up to date with what I’m doing.  They love to see pictures of my friends, they love the status updates which let them know how and what I am doing, they love some of the wall photos I post which make them giggle, and they get more excited than I do with the little chat box where we can converse about how things are unfolding.  Some friends have even told me that because of the names I tag in my posts they feel like they know my peers even though they have never met them.  Even though I’m a huge fan of this site, I still think we need to be careful of it.  Truthfully, the majority of people understand the gist of the culture, but every once in a while you’ll meet a random one or two people who will judge you so completely by it that it may hinder you from moving ahead or accomplishing something you want to finish.  Usually, you will tell your other friends about these one or two people and they will just shake their head and say, “don’t take what they say too personally, they don’t really understand the culture.”

After I wrote this I decided to disband my Facebook account for a while.  Here is what I wrote to my FB “Friends”: Given the last blog post I wrote, I am officially going off Facebook for a while… I’m gonna take a break from it for hopefully the next few weeks and possibly longer.  I will miss all of the updates and pictures that everyone posts, but would love to stay in touch 🙂  PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL TO: deborahruthferber@gmail.com if you want/ need to get in touch with me.

The point of this exercise is to do a little psychological/spiritual experiment.
~ I would like to challenge the whole Facebook culture (with its false sense of popularity and all-about-meness”)
~ I would like to kick my Facebook addiction and instead invest into real, live friendships especially when I move into L’Arche
~ I would like to actually read the news every day (not just get highlights from my feed)
~ I would like to use the time that I would have spent on Facebook exercising, talking in person with friends, praying, reading the Bible, reading books for fun, etc.
~ I would like to give all of your newfeeds a rest
~ I would like to re-evaluate the question of: What is the point of Facebook?  Given that at Tyndale, at church, and in life in general FB has been a largely positive experience, I do realize that there are a few people who feel FB defines a person and shows their maturity level.  So, I’d like to take some time away to discover if there is really any truth to this (it’s hard to know if there is truth to such a thing when you are invested so heavily in it and it’s virtually impossible for you to be self-critical in that way).
~ I am also very curious to know if not being on FB will make me feel more or less lonely.  We had a discussion in class once about how FB makes people lonely but also adds a false sense of friendship.  In that regard, it will be interesting to see who actually will stay in touch.
~ It’s also a test of the will – to see how long I can truly stay away.

So, anyways, I am going to miss seeing everyone’s summer wedding, baby, and other pics and reading your updates.  But once again, I really would like to keep in touch with you.  Send an email any time to: deborahruthferber@gmail.com during my absence.  See you in a few weeks, or months, or perhaps never again (if I never come back on FB)… that’s unlikely.

Additionally, I’m hoping to only go online for about an hour a day just to check my emails and favourite blogs.  I may occasionally be on longer than that since I do plan to continue to post blog material even during my absence… but I’m trying to go low-tech for a while.  Maybe I will come out with some strong Amish values ;).  At any rate, I’m trying to be counter-cultural since I don’t think the technological culture is always the best thing for our minds or our spirits.

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even create a blog series of my experience without FB… but that would seem kind of to defeat the point.  Maybe I’ll just write you all up something when the whole process is over.

 

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