Today, it’s mid-2020, and I have been off Facebook for over a year (I’ll cover that in the “Afterword” below). However, I wrote the next section in September of 2017, after spending eight years without Facebook. So let me take you back to when I pulled the plug (for the first time).
The Great Recession was in full force. President Obama would struggle for another six months to pass the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). And everyone was pondering how the TV series Lost would tie everything together satisfactorily . . . it did not.
I had just graduated with an MA in English from Auburn University a year prior, and I was settling in to my first “real job” as a division director for a non-profit in my hometown.
I decided Facebook was a distraction. I wanted to pursue real friendships. But, too often, I found myself pretending to know about someone’s life, because I knew an inordinate amount of details due to their Facebook account.
And so it began.
Eight years without Facebook.
Then, three weeks ago, at the end of August 2017, I signed back on.
It was like putting a key into the lock of a home that you’ve rented-out but haven’t visited in eight years. Everything is still there, but everything is also very different. Some people are glad you’re back; some people don’t care. Some people are married; some people who were married, aren’t anymore. Some people have kids. Some people are far away; and some people are closer than you thought.
There are new people. Lots of new people. And there are stores and other businesses too. It’s become an entire online community. And therein lies the reason for my return. I wrote a book, and I was trying to “build a platform.” I thought if I had more of an online presence with a few thousand follower, perhaps my book would be more intriguing to potential publishers. So I dove back into the world of Facebook (and my wife has been helping me reacclimate).
I’m trying to master “liking” and “sharing” – which weren’t things when I left. And I’m dabbling in ads, trying to build a following. Turns out that writing the book was the easy part, building a platform is another story entirely.
Facebook: the Good
As I returned to Facebook, I was encouraged by the amount of support I received. People I hadn’t spoken to in years were genuinely interested in what I was doing, and they supported me (sometimes to a degree that I was shocked and humbled by). And I’ve really enjoyed browsing through the last eight years of people’s timeline to see what they’ve been up to.
And while it has been wonderful to be back, I am more acutely aware than ever of some of the dangers that Facebook poses.
Since my re-entry is still fresh, I can see these things more keenly. I have not yet grown numb and oblivious to them. So here are four observations about Facebook after having been back for three weeks.
Facebook: the Bad
First, Facebook is a time-sucker. I used to read the news, be more attentive at home, and use my time more constructively in general. Facebook is the water in a jar that has been filled with rocks, then pebbles, then sand. It seeps into all the areas of our lives that used to be filled with other, (arguably) better things.
Second, Facebook encourages disingeniousness. It is a rare day that someone posts a struggle or a mess. When they do, it is usually far enough after the fact that we can “laugh about it” (or say something funny and get some “likes”). I put my life and the lives of my family on display in order for you to think that everything is awesome. And when people do put real struggles out there, they are often met with awkward silence, unhelpful advice, or a genuine disinterestedness because the digital community was never meant to function in the more serious realm of real problems.
Third, it increases hubris. We are eager for “likes” and comments. To illustrate this point – I am writing this article while on an airplane. Just before powering down my phone, I posted that I was thinking about writing this article. I proceeded to ask a few questions like, “How has social media changed (and changed you) over the past decade?” and “What would it take for you to get off of it (i.e. what changes would happen in your life if you dropped Facebook)?” I can’t wait to land and see if I got responses. Not only am I interested in the responses, I’m also very interested in the response rate. I want it to be high. I want to know that people are reading my stuff and care about what I have to say.
Fourthly, and finally, Facebook encourages me to bring a consumer mindset to the realm of relationships. It commodifies people. On Facebook, I can collect friends and followers like material goods. I can take them out and look at them when I want; and I can hide, block, and otherwise ignore them when I feel like it. They are there for my convenience.
Facebook: the Warning
The best way for me to describe the difference I see Facebook – along with the rest of the burgeoning social media industry – is they have become marketing tools for everyone’s personal brand, and corporations are becoming more and more savvy at tapping into that so that our personal and corporate images are beginning to mingle.
Despite all this, I’m still on.
For those of you using social media innocently and in positive ways, don’t be discouraged. It is a powerful tool with the ability to bring people together like nothing else in history. Just recognize the dangers and take measures to guard you and your family against misuse. This is the world we live in. In less than two decades (Mark Zuckerberg is only thirty-three-years-old), social media has already rooted itself deeply into our social fabric and our cultural psyche. As someone coming back into this world after an eight-year hiatus, my one piece of advice: Click Responsibly.
I wrote the above in September of 2017. When I signed back onto Facebook, I decided to try out Twitter and Instagram, too. I was posting and tweeting in an attempt to “build a platform.” I was “clicking responsibly;” however, each of the four things I mentioned above were also true.
One night, I was reading Francis Chan’s Letter’s to the Church, and this quote stuck out to me:
For those who are not in church leadership, be mindful that this is a very difficult time to lead. I have been in leadership positions for over thirty years. There has never been a time like this.
Social media gives everyone a voice, so everyone chooses to raise theirs. Voices are plentiful; followers are not. Strong opinions are applauded; humility is not. I am not saying that changes do not need to be made among leaders; I am simply calling for grace. Imagine how difficult it would be to coach a team where each player refuses to follow because he or she has a better plan than the coach. Welcome to the American Church in the twenty-first century. Let’s exercise some humility.Francis Chan, Letters to the Church
So, in February 2019, I took a snapshot of that quote on my phone, posted it to Facebook and pulled the plug. If God wants me to have a platform, He is more than capable of handing me one. Me trying to build one on my own strength is an exercise in self-aggrandizing hubris. And so I’m off. I can’t say I’ve missed it. I do miss seeing random tidbits from friends and family, but not being a part of it has encouraged me to foster the relationships that are truly important. It’s an experiment I’d encourage everyone to try.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my book The Relational God.
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