Facebook as Digital 'Crack'

October 29, 2010

Daniela Elser wrote an interesting column on Facebook a couple of weeks ago (Sydney Morning Herald 9-10 Oct). In it she seems to put her finger on a number of reasons for the popularity of Facebook around the world:
  • It offers us the possibility of reinventing ourselves or presenting a specific crafted image of ourselves to our Facebook friends.
  • It has changed the way we interact with others.
  • It offers a sense of connection, or in Elser's words, it offers a "digital inoculation against any creeping sense of disconnection or isolation".
  • It offers an opportunity to "socialise in solitude" (to quote Aaron Sorkin the writer of 'The Social Network' which is the story of Facebook's creation - see the trailer below).  
  • It allows us to be hyper-focused on constructing hyper-elaborated identities.
  • We live more distracted lives because of our constant checking and updating of our profiles. 
 Daniela Elser writes:
One of the most intoxicating things about Facebook is the possibility it represents for reinvention. From our words, to our image, to our friends, Facebook lets us control the public perception of ourselves with an iron fist that would surely please even Kim Jong-il.

Sadly, while recognising that Facebook is allowing us to do this to ourselves, she fell short of suggesting ways that we might use it responsibly (like any drug).  However, she does recognise that Facebook "...speaks to an underlying human need to feel like we are the centre of things".  She cites recent survey research that indicates that 48% of Facebook and Twitter users check or update their profiles from bed on a daily basis either during the night or first thing in the morning.  This comes hot on the heels of other research that shows that addiction to the Internet is a problem for 25% of young adults at University.    

I love technology, and so I know just how strong the urge is to present false images of myself, to be less than honest about my heart's desires at times, particularly the desire to be liked and respected. I think the essence of the problem is a subtle difference between the word 'need' and 'desire'.  Elser suggests that we have a 'need' to feel that we are the centre of things, worthy of attention, needing to be admired, liked etc. While I have no doubt that we have a human need to be loved, I don't accept that we have a 'need' to be at the centre of the world.  This is a 'desire', and it is one that is in opposition to God's desire for us to give him first place in our lives. This is the desire that he created us for. Our desire is to be for him not for the promotion of self.

What a different view the Bible gives in Romans 12:1-8 of what we should desire, and what true community looks like when its members centre their lives on God. Rather than spending our lives feeding a need to be recognised, to be liked and to be admired, we are called to give ourselves to a life of sacrifice - "living sacrifices". We are not to be conformed to the patterns of the world. Rather, because of God's mercy to us we are "not to think of (ourselves) more highly than (we) ought". As God's children in Christ, we have been given gifts from God due to his grace and mercy, not for ourselves, but to fulfil our part as "..one body in Christ, and individually members one of another".  Whatever good gifts God has given are to be used for the good of the Body of Christ and the glory of God.

Is Facebook bad? No, I don't think so. It is a social networking site that can be used to sustain relationships and maintain contact with friends around the world. But it does have the potential to become an addiction and to shift our focus too much to our own sense of self worth and the need to create an identity that is pleasing to us and others. This is not ultimately something which will be for our good.
Other posts and resources

Daniela Elser column 'Hooked on the digital crack of Facebook', Sydney Morning Herald (HERE)

Previous post on 'Late Night Habits and the Mental Health of Young Adults' (HERE)

'The Social Network' (HERE)

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