The theological anthropology of Facebook

Vinoth Ramachandra posts rarely, but his posts are almost always worth the time to read and require time to reflect upon. His post today Network Selves returns to considering  the way the technologies we use change us, and some of the dangers associated with the instant and trivial tendencies implicit in many aspects of electronic communications technology. He already addressed this  a while back (in Becoming Faceless?) but this time adds more depth and more examples (from his recent reading of Jaron Lanier’s recent Penguin You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto.

He highlights the trivialisation of humanity and relationship many of the social networking sites encourage (notably the most popular – Facebook – which provides most of his examples).

Noting how prevalent use of such sites is in countries with large Christian communities he ends with the provocative question: “Why has it been left to secular humanists and others to articulate the prophetic insights that we desperately need in our technology-driven environment?”

I’m still reflecting on his comments about Facebook, which both mirror some of my own frustrations with the site, but also place them squarely in the context of what these “trivial” things are doing to our implied view of what it is to be huma, but I think I do know why Christians (and even Christian theologians) have been slow to really work out the theological implications of these increasingly ubiquitous elements of contemporary life. We theologians (on the whole and with, in my experience, relatively few exceptions) respond to technology in one or other of two extreme knee-jerk ways. Some of us fear the new, and so see each fresh technological intrusion as a threat to be resisted. Others see each new development opening new possibilities, and we rush in chasing the will-o-the-wisp of greater reach and relevance. (Yes, I’m sure you can guess which caricature fits me, and if you know my colleagues, close and distant you can probably type cast most of them too ;)

The result of this polarisation is that we are too busy fighting straw opponents and do not on either side have the time to really engage with the issues. The question is when will we slow ourselves, anaesthetise our jerking knees and begin a reasonable and careful examination of the theological anthropology of Facebook?

3 comments on “The theological anthropology of Facebook

  1. Vinoth Ramachandra

    Thank you, Tim, for this. Waiting to see your responses.

  2. Ali

    What’s the answer to your last question? I’m fascinated to see what will arise from such reflection.

  3. tim

    Well, maybe with your comment on my next post (which, due to oddities in how I answer email, I read first) we have begun such an examination. BUT the medium we are doing it in (while it has been used to produce “reasonable and careful examination”s seldom achieves such a result. We need to find ways to encourage a group of people who care (so far at least Vinoth, at least one of his commenters, you and me) to continue and deepen the conversation. Then (at least blogging, if not Facebook) would demonstrate its potential to facilitate real deep humanity, and as long as our conversation stayed somewhat focused spirituality.