In just a few years Facebook has gone from nothing to a significant feature of modern life with over 500 million users, half of whom use it on any given day. More than 200 million users access Facebook through mobile devices. Facebook is itself part of the wider phenomenon of mobile technology and social networking or Web 2.0 – the use of the internet not just to find information, but to connect with people.
There is much that is good about this. New technologies reflect humanity’s God-given, godlike creativity. God gave us a mandate to take his world and invent, create, and produce.
Social networking brings many benefits:
- Grandparents can get up-to-date photos and news from distant grandchildren.
- Missionaries can send real time prayer requests.
- The message of Jesus is going into countries that we used to speak of as being closed to the gospel.
- People are able readily to organise events or arrange meetings. The recent change of regime in Egypt was called by some “the Facebook revolution” because of the way Facebook was used to organise the protests.
- It is creating a culture of collaboration were products, software, social enterprise are developed through co-operation.
But despite all of this, I am going to focus on the dangers. First, because I am “a grumpy old man” with a nostalgia for the old ways. But mainly because, while the benefits of new technologies are immediately apparent, the negatives are more hidden. Tim Challies says: “a technology wears its benefits on its sleeve – but the drawbacks are buried deep within.” Technology is good. But it readily gets perverted by our sin and used for selfish ends.
More than that, “the medium is the message”. This is what the cultural critic Neil Postman has alerted us to. In other words, how we communicate changes what we communicate. The technology we use to express our thoughts actually changes those thoughts. It changes what we think is important.
Some problems with social networking are obvious.
Over 700 billion minutes are spent each month on Facebook. That is a lot of time. The problem is not just quantity of time, but the constant interruption. Lots of people talk about Facebook as the greatest distraction from work ever. Students are suffering from lack of sleep because they are texting or on Facebook late into the night.
Remember, the medium is the message. In the case of Twitter this means thoughts must be expressed in 140 characters. For blogs it means around 400 words (any thing more and people will not read it). Facebook, too, is designed to deliver short updates and comments. Not using proper grammar and sentences is affecting the way we express ideas. We are losing our ability to construct an argument.
Commercial interests drive this. What is Facebook’s product? It is you, you are its product delivered in large quantities to advertisers! It is the same with Google. They make money when you click on ads so it is in their interests for you never to spend long on one page. So the medium is designed to keep you constant surfing, constantly skimming, constantly clicking. And this is reducing our ability to concentrate. We zip from one piece of information to another. We keep stopping to check texts, emails, tweets, Facebook. We are losing our ability to follow an argument.
Technology makes us more efficient. And efficiency is good. But only in some contexts. Do you want to be an efficient lover? An efficient parent? An efficient worshipper?
But these are just the symptoms. The real issue is this, Why do people spend so much time on Facebook? What does it do for them? What does it offer?
It is not enough just to say “Stop” or “Do it less”. If the only answer you give is self-control then you are inviting me to be my own saviour. And in this case I am may not be convinced I need saving! So the key question is Why? This enables us to make the gospel as the answer.
For many of people, of course, using Facebook is not a problem. For many it is all blessing. But there are dangers in social networking and here are some warning signs.
- Do you check your Facebook page more than once or twice a day?
- Do you spend more than 20 minutes a day on Facebook?
- Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without technology?
- Have you ever read a text or gone online during our gathering?
- Have you stayed up beyond your normal bedtime because you were on Facebook or playing online games?
- Do you use your mobile phone during meals or keep it in the bedroom?
Those are some warning signs. What are the dangers? What is about Facebook that makes it so addictive? In future posts I want to highlight two dangers:
1. On Facebook I can recreate my world through my words to gain approval
2. On Facebook I can escape the limitations of my body
 Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Zondervan, Available here from amazon.co.uk.
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