Some thoughts by one recent Facebook returnee …
Facebook has without question become one of the key places where the world hangs out. (e.g. a recent newspaper article reports that a third of the Australian population now has a Facebook account). So whatever misgivings one may have about Facebook (and I certainly have some), my personal conclusion is that Christians generally, and leaders especially, should be here for the Kingdom’s sake.
But questions remain, and here is but one of them. From a Kingdom point of view, what is the most helpful approach to open discussions (such as occur frequently on one of my friends’ wall) between members of the Christian community, where folks who may not call themselves Christians are listening in and sometimes participating? Is this the right or best place to discuss especially matters of serious contention between believers? (NB: I’m asking this openly, with no assumed ‘right’ answer!)
It’s not that there needs to be a problem with spiritual seekers seeing that Christians have disagreements. And indeed, thinking in terms of Paul’s engagement with the Athenians (Acts 17, second half), there’s something potentially very exciting about taking the Gospel and it’s ramifications into the public ‘marketplace’ of ideas.
But one question that arises is the risk of misunderstanding in this very detached medium, where it’s no simple matter to convey all the nuances of meaning. e.g. To a listener who doesn’t know the wider context or the range of what’s assumed among Christians, a positive comment based on an orthodox understanding of the Bible could well read as hopelessly bigoted or arrogant.
Or to look at it another way, if we’d at least think twice before passionately debating it in a café, should we debate it on Facebook?
My purpose is definitely not to draw lines in the sand. But I hope this may generate some thoughtful reflection.
Even a proud Facebook evictee gets lonely sometimes. Especially when one keeps on discovering more people who’ve signed up in recent months, yea even the most recalcitrant Luddites of one’s acquaintance.
But now I’ve come in from the cold, at least a few steps anyway. Introducing Ning. A friend put me onto this service which is technically a social networking site, and thus in the same genre as Facebook, Myspace and the others. To be sure, Ning comes with many of the standard SN features .. photos, videos, blogs, biographical trivialities, music, event invitations and of course the leporid multiplication of “friends”. However all of that is remarkably forgiveable, as little of it is inescapable.
Ning allows anyone to create their own social network from scratch, with the freedom to make it as public as a street party or so private not even an enterprising 10 year old could hack it. It could have 5000 members you’ve never met, or just you and your dog (if he can remember his password). As the network creator, you get to decide which features it has or doesn’t, and you have a generous variety of themes and colour schemes to choose from. On Ning, you can be a cyber junkie or a digital hermit.
I’ve now set up a Ning network as a communication medium for a group of a dozen or so involved in facilitating and developing Renewal Retreats for pastors and pastoral spouses. It’s proven its worth in a matter of two weeks. Not least, and somewhat remarkably, it satisfies the passions of a techno-addict like me whilst remaining accessible to cyberphobes. This particular network is replete with Luddites for whom a former Google Group made the Iron Maiden seem like a nanny. Even the most reactionary have logged on in meekness.
It’s now about 3 months since I was promoted to the rank of Permanent Facebook Evictee. This was achieved some 6 weeks after an initial reprieve, allowing my return to Facebook following my account being disabled. (Thus attaining the rank of Provisional Social Pariah.) Part I of the story may be read here. Here are some things I’ve learned as a now hardened Facebook persona non grata:
- there’s a growing community of Facebook evictees gathering on various online forums, at least for mutual solace .. and in some cases to strategise (e.g. class actions against Facebook’s faceless overlords). I don’t imagine this community will quite become a pretender to Facebook’s social empire; but it is growing apace.
- being a Facebook evictee offers a potential for public notoriety, possibly greater than one could hope for as a compliant Facebooker. I’m slowly acquiring a fan base of varied ages, desperate for interviews (autograph requests I’m sure are a matter of time), and expressing a sense of forbidden privilege merely to be associated with me, to sit near me, to hear the story of my wickedness, or to be a distant friend of one of my Gen-Y offspring. Is this, I wonder, what it’s like to be a member of the Honoured Society? (And should I buy a violin case?)
- post-Facebook life is blessedly joyous and free. Without the distraction of an exponentially lengthening list of events, quizzes, games, notes, groups, doubtful associates, status updates, gossip, relationship intrigues, virtual plants, pokes, pixely photos, and heaven knows what … I now have time for what truly matters (such as playing solitaire, googling about potential ailments, and keeping up with Twitter (that last refuge of the recalcitrant sociopath)).
Yes, dear reader, there truly is the possibility of a fulfilling life after that exposure as a keyboard criminal, which undoubtedly awaits us all.
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