Facebook time or face time?

FacebookThis is a first response to Vinoth Ramachandra’s post Network Selves. Ironically, but quite properly, it was thought through first as I was “doing Facebook” this morning. There was a lot to do as I have hardly looked at Facebook since before Christmas.

One of the things I did was to drop comments on some of my friends status messages. Usually when one does this it is responding to something someone else has already written. In one way it is a nice example of Vinoth’s trivialisation that FB encourages. Few of the comments were deep or challenging – maybe none of them were though I’d like to dream I am better than that, and that some actually cause people to think. They represent a very minimal form of human contact. Sharing a coffee would be so much deeper, richer and fulfilling! And yet… most of the friends I “visited” in this way are in different cities from me, none of them is within half an hour’s drive, some are hours away by ‘plane. This contact may be fleeting and trivial, but it is contact. When we meet (perhaps at next year’s Baptist “Gathering”, perhaps in the next life) we will still be (at least a little bit) in touch. Contrast this with what happened when we left Zaïre. Then too people we had been close to became far away, but then there was no Facebook, no email, telephone was horribly expensive and mail (carried by aircraft or ships, not by real snails ;) was haphazard. As a result when I meet my Congolese (yes, same country, just a different name) friends again (most likely in the next life, as no more local meetings are planned) we will have been “out of touch” for so much longer. This trivial contact through Facebook is better, more “incarnate” than none.

In my Facebook time this morning I also cross posted some of my blog posts. This makes them accessible to people who don’t use RSS feed readers or live otherwise technologically impaired lives ;) One of the items I put onto Facebook points to Vinoth’s post. While you may legitimately argue that increasing the audience for Tim’s blogging is trivialising, you can hardly say the same for Vinoth’s blog. More people, especially people outside Sri Lanka should read him. Facebook allows me to encourage that… If only one of my friends becomes a reader of his posts they will be enriched, become (if only a little) deeper thinking and more broadly experienced (since he writes from a different “place”) people and their faith will be nourished. Without FB and blogging this would not be possible

But enough of my knee jerk technophilic response. What of the dark side? One of my friends linked to a disquieting article that told of the mass deaths of doves (not mere pigeons but admirable turtledoves) another two friends had “liked” this link. In jest I commented on the strangeness of “liking” such news. But the linguistic oddity apart, this is FB at its trivial worst. TV on steroids. We barely see the news, probably (like me) the two who “liked” the link had not followed it up and read the article. We fail to respond adequately to the news, none of us will change our behaviour as a result of seeing the post. Facebook, in making “information” even more accessible, indeed in throwing great heaps of the stuff at us, adds to the numbing that TV, and before that Radio, and before that print, had begun. The more we “see” the less we perceive. We are the people of whom the prophet spoke long ago (Is 6:9b-10).

3 comments on “Facebook time or face time?

  1. Ali

    Sorry Tim, I don’t know how this will fit in with your post. You just got me thinking about Facebook…
    Do you think that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus would work as a series of status updates?
    I ask that because I’m trying to weigh up the pros and cons of limiting thoughts to very few characters. I’ve always found it a helpful exercise to “translate” theological concepts into a children’s Sunday School lesson in order to try to simplify things for ease of communication. The challenge is to maintain nuance of course, but I don’t know that it’s a fruitless exercise.
    Of course, Facebook is rarely used for something as sustained, profound and mindbending as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but perhaps the solution is to define the function of Facebook (an expanded equivalent to annual Christmas Cards? a collection of signposts to further reading/viewing? an invitation to others to engage with yourself rather than an opportunity to expose yourself to others?) and to recognise its use only within those parameters.
    Alternatively, it could be used as an opportunity to determine a person’s personhood away from Facebook and think of creative ways to break the restrictions put on expression by Facebook categories.
    Lastly (so much for reducing thoughts to the size of a status update!) Thomas Jay Oord used to ask theological questions on his Facebook page and get numerous replies (up to and more than 90). Sadly, he no longer does this, but it can happen.

    1. tim

      Hmm… The Tractatus as a series of status updates that’s quite a thought, and your example of Thomas Jay Oord is also interesting, but I wonder why he stopped? I suspect that we are limited in the extent we can bend technologies to our wills. If so then the paucity of “serious” use of FB may suggest that it is not a good medium in which to grow serious conversation. Certainly, although I cross-post from blog to FB, and although quite a few readers “find” the blog posts on FB, few of the substantial comments appear there, few even of the useful short ones even these are more common on the blog…

      So, perhaps the Tractatus could “work”, but certainly it would work differently. I suspect it would work badly, but someone should try! I suspect FB facilitates shallow and trivial thought, but it would be great to see it begin to be used in deeper ways.

      Against the cultured despisers of FB I would say that we all need casual and trivial (much of life is always trivial and so the trivial can be deeply spiritual), it is just that perhaps we don’t all need as much trivial as current trends in technology are encouraging?

  2. Ali

    Well, I think I’ll give the Tractatus a miss, but I’ll try a verse a day from Proverbs 10 for 32 days and see if the Facebook population notices the atmosphere change :).