Get off the Wall

Two new and insightful articles that I wanted to share with you all about the Gospel, loneliness, and the walled-garden of Facebook. Understanding that not all aspects of social media (specifically FB) are bad or problematic, my wife and I are collaborating on a future post about redemptive practices of social media for the church. I think it’s fun just to write that my wife and I are collaborating. I’m sure there will be hundreds of thumbs-up on that one.

Article 1 – by Tim Chester; Pastor – Sheffield, UK

Get off the Wall

The first article is actually a post in a 7-part series that Tim Chester is doing on the impact of Facebook on people’s thinking in the light of the Gospel. Tim always gives us a clear and salient view of the Gospel in his writings, so these articles are spiritually healthy perspectives on the tensions between social media and Gospel practices.

Article 2 – by Stephen Marche; Atlantic Magazine

This article closes with the astute observation that Facebook is preventing us from dis-connecting; not allowing us to literally forget-about-ourselves for a little while. The author of this post (from what I can tell) is not a follower of Christ. However, Marche has very keen insights into the sociological aspects that I found myself nodding in agreement on many quotes. It’s a bit lengthy but well-worth the read as one of the most insightful treatments of this subject that I’ve seen.
Here is the intro:
Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic)—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill. A report on what the epidemic of loneliness is doing to our souls and our society.
Here are some notable quotes from the article that speak more to the effects social media is having on authentic, face-to-face relationships (words in blue are my emphasis):
  • That one little phrase, Your real friends—so quaint, so charmingly mothering—perfectly encapsulates the anxieties that social media have produced: the fears that Facebook is interfering with our real friendships, distancing us from each other, making us lonelier; and that social networking might be spreading the very isolation it seemed designed to conquer.
  • we should recognize that it is not just isolation that is rising sharply. It’s loneliness, too. And loneliness makes us miserable.
  • roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly of an epidemic of loneliness.
  • We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years.
  • In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. … As of 2010, the country (USA) had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches.
  • despite its deleterious effect on health, loneliness is one of the first things ordinary Americans spend their money achieving. With money, you flee the cramped city to a house in the suburbs or, if you can afford it, a McMansion in the exurbs, inevitably spending more time in your car. Loneliness is at the American core, a by-product of a long-standing national appetite for independence…We are lonely because we want to be lonely. We have made ourselves lonely.
  • The idea that a Web site could deliver a more friendly, interconnected world is bogus. The depth of one’s social network outside Facebook is what determines the depth of one’s social network within Facebook, not the other way around.
  • The price of this smooth sociability is a constant compulsion to assert one’s own happiness, one’s own fulfillment…Lanier argues that Facebook imprisons us in the business of self-presenting…Curating the exhibition of the self has become a 24/7 occupation…Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break. Human beings have always created elaborate acts of self-presentation. But not all the time, not every morning, before we even pour a cup of coffee. 
  • Narcissism is the flip side of loneliness, and either condition is a fighting retreat from the messy reality of other people.
  • What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.
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3 thoughts on “Get off the Wall

  1. Hi Rob. Here’s my piece of pasta to throw into the soup. While I appreciate the “corrective” nature of this discussion re Facebook, my concern is that we are taking this whole thing too seriously. Yes, we are to be salt in our culture, and we are to provide a prophetic voice for our times. But who are we trying to correct? Other Christians? Our culture? While we whack away at the weeds in the garden of our evangelical culture, we may be of some benefit to ourselves. But if we intend to influence our culture,forget it. What non-believers are ever going to read our Christian blogs anyway? Furthermore, I’m concerned that we are falling into the same fundamentalist bog of the preceding generation. Our negativism re culture is not at all attractive to non-believers. Our pagan culture has some prophetic voices out there saying the same things that we are. But somehow, when “religious” people say it, it is perceived differently. Why? Because religious people tend to be negative-again and again. “Don’t do this! Don’t do that! This is wrong! That is sinful!” Is there not something affirmative that we can say about our culture? Why do we need to focus on correcting it all the time? This only reinforces their “holier-than-thou” perception of Christians. Without neglecting or ignoring the corrective nature of our presence, let’s enjoy our culture where we can enjoy it. Let’s build it up with positive affirmations. God said his creation was good at the beginning. Though sin has damaged and distorted it, there is still good in his creation. Though twisted, we are still in his image. Let us be more (realistically) positive. – Gene

    • Hi Gene, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I concur with a number of them.
      Here are some of my motivations for sharing this article on HM.

      First, I’m writing generally to the church. You mentioned correcting the culture-at-large and about non-believers reading Christian blogs. The world is worldly and I’m not intending to influence the culture by telling it how to moralistically use Facebook. Yet, the way that I and other Christians utilize FB can send the distinct and positive message you were calling for.

      Second, by sharing the link to Tim’s series on FB, my intentions were to help Christians consider how the medium of FB can be so easily abused for self-glorification and gospel-misrepresentation — often without even realizing it. We have to be careful to be communicators of truth.

      Third, by sharing the link to the Marche article, my intention was to warn friends that there is a wide and easy path to self-presentation that eats at the soul and reverses the process of edification. I found many of Marche’s comments to be salient and applicable to my experience with social media. I found it both fascinating and ironic that the author’s conclusion was one of the main reasons people in society feel so lonely is because they’re in an “always on” mode and can’t stop thinking about themselves.

      So, as an elder, part of my calling is to warn, correct, call to consider, make aware, and rebuke if necessary (although, I wouldn’t use the blog for rebuking). That’s why I may appear to be taking this a bit more seriously. Just this last week, I was assisting a couple through marriage difficulties and one of the main problems was a spouse’s use of Facebook. I’ve had to sort through arguments and hurt-feelings expressed through the medium of FB. And, I have watched numerous people descend into narcissism as I “read their lives” on FB.

      In the end, I see some of your points and want to say — look, FB is not all bad and not all good either. Let’s be discerning and wise.
      I hope that this “adds some salt” to the minestra. Blessings today! Rob

  2. Pingback: 10 Redemptive Practices of Social Media | Holy Minestrone

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