It was well after the Academy Awards that I sat down to watch The Social Network. The movie portrayed computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg as a rather unlikable character that was driven by his longing for acceptance to create this new online platform for connection. It is remarkable to think about the powerful role his offering has played in shaping the fate of the revolution in Egypt and social change in other parts of the world…by aninvention born out of loneliness. Social media is quickly redefiningour world. The curious and sympathetic aspect of Zuckerburg (at least the movie character) is that his invention that promised connectionapparently didn’t solve his problem of feeling disconnected. It left me wondering about the role Facebook should play in our lives.
For the record, I love Facebook and Twitter and all of the social networking outlets that allow me to stay in close contact with the people I love across the country. It is interesting how these new avenues of connection are impacting our relationships. I wrote a blog several weeks ago about the inherent lack of transparency in our Facebook posts titled “I am NOT my Facebook status” ( https://mattlitton.com/2011/02/03/some-thoughts-on-the-spiritual-side-of-social-media-i-am-not-my-facebook-status/ ).
It has led me to wonder: what impact does Facebook have on the way we practice community? I remember as a kid watching my dad gather regularly with the neighbors on our street todiscuss the latest news. In fact, I don’t remember being outside without seeing my parents interact with our neighbors. The reality is that we nowlive in a culture where truly knowing our immediate neighbors is becoming more uncommon — and fewer and fewer people are finding that community in church (see Relevant Magazine’s article titled “Vanishing Church Body”) . I wonder if the surface connections that Facebook provides us might simply be placing a Band-Aid over our growing relational disconnectedness.
Social networking is a powerful and useful tool, but I don’t think we have a clear picture yet of the ways it is transforming our culture. I suppose I worry that we are placing more energy in our digital relationships than our physical ones. I question if our Facebook relationships aren’t a cheap substitute for a real connection and community with the very people who live closest to us. Are our Facebook friendships substantial enough to sustain us? Maybe the answer to my question is found in the idea that Mark Zuckerburg’s character, in the very last scene of the movie, appears to still be a pretty lonely guy…
Maybe Facebook is more of an escape from community than a lifeline to real connection with others.
(originally published March 22, 2011)