Friday, May 1, 2015

The Problem with Facebook

I wonder sometimes what Facebook is doing to us. Or rather, if our engagement in social media is changing who we are and how we live life. Because actually, Facebook is a passive tool. We are not victims, but actors. So let's own our part.

I've recently seen some articles and videos about the discrepancy between what people post on Facebook and the reality of their experience. Facebook, for most of us, is a snapshot of life, whether in words or photos. And whether taking a portrait or a candid photo, we typically try to look good. And so I'm not sure why anyone is surprised that most Facebook posts are, well, cheesy. We're mugging for the camera, so to speak.

But there are also those who use social media as a platform for complaint. Rather than putting their best face forward, they indiscriminately post verbal vomit for the world to read. Still, this is a choice. This is the face that are choosing to reveal.

The problem is not whether or not we can take Facebook posts at face value. We can, for the most part. The problem is when we believe that Facebook tells the whole story--both ours and theirs. Because it doesn't. And actually, it shouldn't. I have Facebook friends that I've never actually met in real life, and sharing my life at any depth in that venue would be at the least inappropriate and at the most dangerous.

So while I love Facebook for quick updates on who is going where, and what they ate, and who has a birthday, and who's kids won what prizes, and who got a new job, and who knit a new sweater, and all those other little snippets...I don't look at Facebook as a basis for real relationship.

I may be able to read a prayer request on Facebook, but I can't lay my hands on your head and pray for you.

I may be able to smile at your funny experience on Facebook, but I can't share a belly-laugh with you.

I may be able to appreciate your amazing vacation, but I can't hear the enthusiasm in your voice.

I may be able to join your cause on Facebook, but I can't see the passion in your eyes.

Facebook is like reading a menu. Real life relationships are like eating a meal.

And the problem is not with WHAT people post on Facebook. It doesn't matter if the description in a menu is flowery and detailed or blunt and to the point. Reading the menu can't satisfy our hunger. The problem is believing that our hunger for relationship can or should be satisfied by a menu.

We need to be living out real lives in community with other people. We need to hear each other's voices, see the tears in each other's eyes, and we need to touch each other. We need to laugh together in person, we need to eat meals around the same table, we need to walk through the same fields. If Facebook is your main source of community, then I hate to tell you, but you don't have a community.

Our brains and bodies were created for connection with other human beings. This isn't just psychology, it's biology. In their book A General Theory of Love, the authors (all of whom are medical doctors) talk about the fact that humans are not able to live solitary lives, that we actually need the physical presence of other human beings in order to be stable. They write that "people cannot be stable on their own. Not should or shoudn't be, but can't be....Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near to them" (86).

I think we need to stop fretting over the "accuracy" or "transparency"of  Facebook posts. What we need to think about is staying near to the people who regulate us well!

The menu can never take the place of the meal. Let Facebook be what it is. Glance through it if you like, post a comment or two. Then shut down your computer, turn off the iPad, silence the SmartPhone, and meet a friend for coffee. Take a walk with a neighbor. Pray with a family member. Give yourself fully to the people in your midst, rather than constantly being divided between electronic connections and real ones.

We are losing something of life because we settle for reading the menu of friendship instead of feasting on the real thing. Don't blame Facebook. There is a "log out" button.

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