Therefore… regard no one according to the flesh. — St. Paul
There is a rather peculiar and depressing fact about my generation in that we are a people who have so many options and opportunities in what to pursue that we tend to do many things and we do them in a very mediocre fashion. For instance, taking modern education as an example, we have, in this country in particular, a group of people who are stretched so thin in their studies that they are only average at everything and good at nothing. Whereas older generations would excel at certain trades and become masters to the best of their ability, we tend to reach for the world only to grasp the wind, and when we are done we watch a sitcom. Every man is a renaissance man, and yet as we strive to become what we’re not, we grow frustrated and give up because it has not been given to us. Instead of focusing on one area and striving ahead to be as good as we can in that context, we treat life more as a salad bar, picking and choosing what we like and don’t like. We strive to know every fact about every issue only to find that we never learned how to apply the facts that we did learn, and then we go and watch a YouTube clip. And when we are done and frustrated with our inability to do everything we want, we decide to cram more into our lives instead of taking a step back and focusing attention in one area. We are gluttons in our pursuits, taking and taking and taking but never digesting. The depressing fact comes when we begin applying this to our social contexts. Ten years ago nobody had a social media page, and yet no one worried about being friendless and alone. Now the world is at our fingertips and the more friends we have, the better we feel. But we neglect the one truth that more friends does not mean deeper relationships, and our social circles become much like our pursuits: we pick and choose what we like and disregard what we don’t like and throw that up on our profile. Our fellow men have become a page, and that page abolishes all the wonder, all the curiosity, all the excitement, all the anticipation that comes in learning about another human soul. And when we are done cataloging our “friends” we update our Facebook pages.
I read recently in the beginning of a book by GK Chesterton that an argument is much about defining what you are not arguing about than what you are. So often when we do argue, that very thin line can actually be crossed because what is being attacked is actually quite similar to what is being applauded. In this sense, I do not wish to argue against Facebook as a way to “connect” to others. Everyone values those connections, and it is fruitless to argue against them so long as we do keep in mind that connection to people who do not live anywhere near us should never take place to the connections we make in our current geographical setting. “A divided geography is a divided soul.” I would also like to state that I am not arguing for cliques but want to stress the need for deeper relationships among a select few, as opposed to having multiple surface level relationships. I wish here instead to take a moment as I find myself in the midst of a very long novel (one Martin Chuzzlewit) to take a look back on my year away from the social networking world. These are my thoughts a year later. Take them as you will, but if I must explain I will explain that while I take a hard stance on such a stupid site, I do it out of pure motives. If I could sum up all my writing into two ideas I want to get out, I would say that I desire all people to know and see God as he is presented in Bible, and that one of the best ways to find that God is the person sitting across from you. I feel Facebook destroys this. Under the guise of individuality, it shreds our uniqueness.
I penned an argument for leaving Facebook nearly 1 year ago. I stressed then the vulnerability of narcissism that Facebook inevitably creates, and I insisted heavily on the idea that our relationships should primarily be built on the physical and momentary relationships that God has presently given us. Another negative aspect of Facebook has come to my attention as I have lived now almost a year without that “connection” to others. Looking back on those years, I see now a tendency to “bite off more than we can chew” socially. If you have 1000 or even 300 “friends” on Facebook, the information you have about each of those people is actually pretty amazing. But do we need this? Is it better to know 300 people at a shallow surface level or 30 people at a deep intimate level? Does a man date for the rest of his life or settle down and get married? Like everything else in my generation, we feel obligated (almost as if we are being told) to “friend” everyone, to get to know everything about everyone and hold on to them for forever. This is unrealistic, and it leads to my second point.
As we seek to know people on a deeper intimate level, the first thing a person on Facebook decides to do is look at that person’s profile. A week as their friend on the social site creates a certain picture of them (drawn by them). But here is where I ask the important question: Is it better to read the novel the author wrote or read another book the author wrote about his novel which leaves out all the gaudy details? “Finding out” about someone on Facebook is something like me getting an edited Limp Bizkit CD as a teen: What’s the point when every other word is bleeped out?* It is not to say that your friend is creating a saint on Facebook and living the life of a sailor at his house. It is to say that your friend cannot possibly be socially awkward, cannot stutter, squeak, or sweat uncontrollably on the internet, and by default, his Facebook profile is a complete sham. Life is not a cookie cutter. Chesterton comments on Dickens’s David Copperfield stating that the protagonist’s first marriage is far superior to his second marriage because it is a real marriage. Copperfield’s marriage to Dora, his first wife, is real because she does things a real person would do. She has faults and eccentricities. His second wife is a cookie cutter. She is far too perfect to be taken seriously, much like your Facebook profile. And until Facebook creates a “faults, sins & absurdities” section this will always be the case.
Finally, my argument lands on the issue of space. I recently stumbled upon a New York Times article which stated that young Americans are driving less. I am thrilled to hear this, but as I continued to read, one reason for this trend I found to be rather depressing.
Online life might have something to do with the change, he suggested. “A higher proportion of Internet users was associated with a lower licensure rate,” he wrote in a recent study. “This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people.”
We are told (and told, and told) by the media that Facebook and the internet and Google Glass don’t replace human interaction but enhance it. Yet it is interesting that while the young boy is “enhancing” his relationship with his friends online, he could very well be spending that time with real people. I suppose if one wants to sit around and have nothing but virtual relationships then by all means. But you can never add something in life without taking something else away. When we cram more into our lives, something inevitably gets squeezed out, and as the younger generation sits and stares at their profiles on Facebook, they neglect something, and that something is usually time spent with family. But we are told that it is imperative we have our friends with us wherever we go. This strange need to have people in our pockets on our phones is yet another thing we have decided we need which we don’t. The real need is less time spent in our social worlds. For a thing is better appreciated when we realize the truth that says we cannot hold on to it for forever.
I will conclude this lengthy argument with a CS Lewis quote from his autobiography Surprised by Joy. His quote concerns the modern transportation of the time (1955).
I number it among my blessings that my father had no car… This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon. The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me. I measured distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed “infinite riches” in what would have been to motorists “a little room.” The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space”. It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.
“A small world is a small wonder.” We are told (and it is very dangerous that we are constantly being “told” things) that a smaller world is a better world. This is not true. It is as blunt a lie as saying the sun sets in the east. The very opposite is true. For as our world grows smaller and smaller and smaller so too does our wonder, and if our wonder shrinks into obscurity so too does our praise. But we must praise, so we praise ourselves, and our God is forgotten altogether. For once let us put an end to all that we are “told” we need: turn off the ads that create this horrible picture of what you should be, and be yourself in all your glory. Put whatever number you want on it: 6 thousand, 10 thousand, 5 billion. Our world lasted up until the turn of the century without this insatiable need to cling to relationships scattered around the globe. This bouncing ball was bigger and far more fantastic; it was slower and more appreciated; it was quieter and thus listened to. Indeed, the toughest part of leaving Facebook was the inevitable fact that I was saying goodbye to certain relationships. I am understanding now that a deeper gift that comes from my freedom from Facebook: the appreciation I give to the friends I still keep up with. Parting is harder with each visit, but something tells me this is right. It is right to feel a type of ache when you say goodbye to someone, having no idea when you will ever hear from them again. And when God ordains the reunion, I find a certain joy in catching up without that very stupid phrase so often uttered: “Ah! so I saw on Facebook.” Life is a script written by our Holy Playwright. Let him do his work.
My wish for you then is to leave Facebook for this very reason.** Take just a month away from the site. You can always return, and the month will prove to be beneficial. A life exists outside of the social networking world. This life is full of strange and fascinating people, souls in fact, souls which do so many strange and uncouth things. I encourage you to seek to invest yourself in fewer but deeper relationships. Seek to get to know some of your friends in a deeper way, centered around free flowing conversation. Lastly, keep in mind that as every other technological fad that has graced our planet has faded away so too will Facebook. It will not last, but will be replaced, and what will replace it will inevitably be something far more hideous than we ever imagined. We will pine for those old days when we had faces: when we actually knew someone from the inside out instead of nothing but a profile page. For that is what we are becoming: a generation of profile pages. Row after row after row of generic and unoriginal profile pages dressed up and in line. We are all “friends” in this Brave New World because friendship has been so devalued that its meaning has lost all significance. But, in this dystopian world that is now, we believe it is far better to block out the bad and believe only the good. We are all perfect, and it is better to have a superficial relationship with a profile page than a deep relationship with some absurd soul.
*This analogy falls to pieces in that there is no context under the sun in which buying a Limp Bizkit CD is ever, for any reason at all, condoned.
**A paradox of sorts arises here which is easily mended. I have a small number of followers on Facebook (appreciated no less for that fact) who by leaving Facebook would miss the opportunity of following this blog. I would thus direct them to adopt Twitter and follow by that route. Twitter is far less dangerous than Facebook only in that it demands for “less” which is often more. And we could do with less.