My Facebook Account
The IPO (initial public offering) of Facebook stock has not gone as planned. The market value of the shares turned out to be substantially beneath what the owners had hoped and believed. Worse, the value of those shares continues to decline rather than to increase. As I am writing, some pundits are discussing the possibility that the social media site might just die, and a few are even wondering whether its passing will kill the so-called “tech bubble.”
The prospect of a world without Facebook is one that I can face with equanimity. In fact, I have already dealt with this issue. Some months back, I canceled my Facebook account. I have not missed it.
To be fair, I should confess that I was never one of Facebook’s most avid users. When I had an account, I would go weeks and sometimes months without logging in to see whether I had any messages or if someone had written on my wall. I routinely deleted any email notices that came from Facebook. To me, the whole thing was more a bother and even an annoyance than anything.
Not that I didn’t have friends. Quite the contrary. I was being followed by hundreds (or was it thousands?) of people whom I did not know and would not have recognized if I had met them on the street. In fact, looking at my list of friends became a weird experience as I found myself wondering, “Who are these people and why are they watching me?”
Sure, I could have dropped them from the list. In fact, I could have rejected their friend requests at the outset. But that always seemed rude, like answering the phone and then just hanging up.
It was fun to be able to see the doings of loved ones and old acquaintances. Even that, however, felt too much like prying. At the cognitive level I knew that these people posted only those things that they were willing to allow others to see. I also knew, however, that they rarely or never had me in particular in their minds when they posted these things. It just felt too much like reading somebody else’s diary or mail.
In short, I came to believe that Facebook diminished my ability to treat people with respect. The fact that they had consented to this disrespectful peering into their lives gave me little consolation. In my own mind and sensibilities, I was subjecting these people to degradation.
By saying these things, I am not trying to make judgments about others who use Facebook and similar social media. That is why I am talking so much about how Facebook felt to me and how I came to perceive it rather than making statements about what it is. I am not arguing that others should cancel their accounts. I am just explaining why I canceled mine.
It’s not that I’m anti-technology. A telephone represents technology. A radio broadcast represents technology. The problem (for me) with Facebook is that it felt like putting the content of a very personal telephone call into a radio broadcast. For me to use Facebook called for an element of exhibitionism that I simply do not enjoy. Not everything needs to be public.
What Facebook does is to provide tabloid news coverage for every person (again, I’m not suggesting that everyone uses Facebook this way, but it does happen regularly). In other words, it allows every user a small sphere within which she or he can act like a celebrity. To some extent, the medium probably fosters this attitude by inviting users to state their likes and dislikes up front, and then to broadcast the trivia of their lives. Facebook is an opportunity to put one’s self on display.
That is just what I was tired of doing. When I became president of Central Seminary, I discovered two surprising perspectives. The first is that one encounters powerful pressures to equate the Lord’s work with institutional success—there is little place for sacrificing institutional priorities for the greater good. The second is that, for an agency president, institutional promotion begins to look very much like self-promotion.
The identity of the institution comes to be tied to the identity of its leader. The greater the power and visibility of the leader, the greater the power and visibility of the institution. If the leader can gain celebrity status, then the institution gains celebrity status. Among parachurch organizations, this kind of celebrity is the holy grail.
Some versions of Christianity have been more susceptible to the cult of celebrity than others. Take the varieties of Baptist fundamentalism as an example. Regular Baptists have been among the least susceptible because they have emphasized the importance of little men organizing around great ideas. Those branches of Baptist fundamentalism that came out of the Conservative Baptist Movement have been more susceptible because they are accustomed to being led by big men. The branches of Baptist fundamentalism that trace themselves to the ministry of J. Frank Norris have been led by Really Big Men, and consequently they are most prone to create and follow celebrities.
For myself, I despise the cult of celebrity in all its forms. We can never bring glory to God by making ourselves impressive. Yet I always felt that this is exactly what I was being pushed to do when I was president of Central Seminary (to be fair, my predecessor found a way to avoid this dynamic, and perhaps if I had been a more perspicacious leader I could have, too). This was one of the reasons that I eventually left the presidency: I did not want to be a celebrity and I did not want to be treated like one. I just wanted to minister to people.
Even the very small celebrity of a Facebook account is too much for me. The notion that I could have hundreds or thousands of “friends” who are following my private musings and the personal details of my life is too preposterous for me to accept. I know that I struggle with pride, and I have even been told that I am arrogant, but to put myself on display in this way requires more hubris than I can muster.
Again, I am not making any judgments about what anybody else should do. I do see the values of this particular social medium, and I do not fault anyone for wishing to take advantage of those values. For me, however, the personal liabilities were simply too great.
And don’t even get me started on Twitter.
How Great the Goodness Kept in Store
The Psalter, 1912
How great the goodness kept in store
For those who fear thee and adore
In meek humility.
How great the deeds with mercy fraught
Which openly thy hand has wrought
For those who trust in thee.
Secured by thine unfailing grace,
In thee they find a hiding place
When foes their plots devise;
A sure retreat thou wilt prepare,
And keep them safely sheltered there,
When strife of tongues shall rise.
Blest be the Lord, for he has showed,
While giving me a safe abode,
His love beyond compare;
Although his face he seemed to hide,
He ever heard me when I cried,
And made my wants his care.
Ye saints, Jehovah love and serve,
For he the faithful will preserve,
And shield from men of pride;
Be strong, and let your hearts be brave,
All ye that wait for him to save,
In God the Lord confide.
Kevin T. Bauder Bio
This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, who serves as Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Then the age of the tell-all talk show hit, with no problem too small or too shameful. Facebook did not start that particular snowball rolling down the hill- IMO we have Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams, and Jerry Springer to thank for that. However and in my opinion, some good came from it- those who had been misused and abused no longer felt so compelled to hide what had been done to them, which removes some of the weight of intimidation with which bad guys once manipulated their victims. Women who would not go to the doctor for serious illness are less afraid to go for regular tests and screenings. Even men seem more likely to set aside their guy pride and go to the doc for a check up. Who needs to die of colon/pancreatic/prostate cancer when it can be quickly diagnosed and treated?
Glass half full.
I think the information age will reach an equilibrium. Now that the ‘wow’ factor has mellowed out, it seems to me that more people are focusing on purposeful uses of technology, instead of treating it like the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet at the Golden Corral.
@ Bro. Charlie- thank you for the kind words. When my kids were little, most of my homeschool support came from friends I made online. I have homeschool mentors and buddies that I will never meet IRL that taught and listened and shared with me. I just can’t bring myself to feel an aversion to the internet or social networking. Plus, have you seen all the FREE STUFF you can get online! http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php] http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-shocked004.gif
I already hear comments by students that Facebook is for old people. By that they mean those of us in our 30’s….
[Susan R] I also use it to stay up-to-date with various publications and blogs instead of subscribing via email. My inbox thanks me.FB is not entirely reliable for this purpose unless you stay active on the FB page in question (likes / comments). It may start to filter out and not show you every blog post. I have had people who “like” my FB blog page not get my new posts in their feed.
Take letter writing. Surely it is less prone to the abuses of facebook. The work alone required in writing single letters and sending them out discourages at least some of the abuses mentioned here.
And will there be a difference in the way children who have been raised in a society that makes such heavy a use of social media view personal relationships? It seems to me that the range of gestures of emotion (especially in personal interactions) are likely to be greatly reduced in a society where the like button is the chiefest tool of affirmation.
It might be useful to talk about different media tradeoffs. So, let’s take letter writing and facebook.
Letters are certainly more intimate, from sender to receiver, for your eyes only. Their physical medium makes them more permanent, if the receiver cares to keep them. They can be don’t require internet access, a password, or a subscription; they will never bombard you with (mis)targeted advertisements. The page layout will never rearrange without warning. Yes, there are a lot of things to love about letters.
But there are a lot of things to love about Facebook. Above all is the connectivity. I’m keeping up friendships in various degrees with people from high school and college that otherwise would have completely dissolved. With a few friends, I keep up a pretty regular correspondence, so it feels almost as if we live down the street from each other, even though we’re scattered around the country. Beyond that, I’ve met a handful of people through FB that I started talking to and eventually met in person; I’m grateful for the tool that let me begin those friendships. Facebook is also nearly instant, so I can have a conversation with someone without waiting days for letters to slog back and forth. No stamps! No trips to the post office! Also, I like being able to see pictures of my friends, their kids, their new houses, etc. Many of them live far away, so realistically, it’s FB or nothing.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that it’s not FB vs. any form of communication. There’s no antagonism. No one has to choose one and only one vehicle of communication. We can traverse multiple vehicles, choosing each one for its strengths, minimizing weaknesses through judicious combination.
My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com
Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin
I will say that I have a friend to whom I write letters, although I cheat and use email. We keep our email conversations distinct from our “letter” correspondence though. Much longer missive, no immediate responses, no quoting the other to respond, and no more than one a week. Retains many good aspect of letter writing without spending a stamp. Although when he moves back to the states, I may actually put pen to paper.
I’m not aruguing for some prohibition of facebook or anything, but it just seems that certain things tend to degrade our culture. That’s sad.
What about typed letters? Is it a bad thing to type a personal letter instead of handwriting it? If not, then what’s the different between typing an email and typing on paper other than an envelope and the price of a stamp?
I think folks that are thoughtful corresponders don’t degrade because the tech changed.
I will agree that some things lend themselves to abuse. When’s the last time someone ate too much salad? Drank too much V-8? Spent too much time studying Scripture? Why not dispense with Cheetos, Snickers, Cokes, pulp magazines and fiction? Would people become healthier and more spiritual?
Not when their underlying character issues are the real problem. It’s been said that everyone has a price tag, and it’s true because at some point, we can be bought- by money, desire, vanity… Unless we constantly strengthen our moral fiber and guard our hearts, our flesh will find a weak spot and exploit it.
Cultures degrade regardless- the Greeks and Romans managed to trash their society just fine with so much as a calculator.
I wonder if there was speculation about the dangers of the abacus. :p
I’m a bit cynical about dire warnings when a new technology hits the streets. We’ve been there with everything from the combustion engine, the conveyor belt, the radio, the telephone, the Hellivision (haha) and now… The Internet! (cue organ music, da-da-da-da-DUM!). We’ve seen all these things bring forth both good and evil, because that is what people do. I explain it to my kids this way- I can sit in this nice comfy chair, or I can beat you to death with it. Either way, the chair didn’t make the choice for me, nor did it by its presence tempt me to do so. It is one’s own lack of self control that leads us to excess in any area of our lives.
I don’t think one can compare communication methods to little girls playing with anatomically correct dolls.
[DavidO] I think fb and Barbie both tell us, in their way, that this is a/the way to be.I don’t see that about FB, unless you are talking about advertisements, etc… FB can be used in a variety of ways. It’s how I use it that determines how it affects me, not the other way around. At least from my perspective.
[JG]There is a fix for this- go to a page you’ve Liked, and hover over the “Liked” link- you should see a drop down menu that, among other things, says “Show in news feed”. Checkmark it if it isn’t already, and you should start seeing the updates.[Susan R] I also use it to stay up-to-date with various publications and blogs instead of subscribing via email. My inbox thanks me.FB is not entirely reliable for this purpose unless you stay active on the FB page in question (likes / comments). It may start to filter out and not show you every blog post. I have had people who “like” my FB blog page not get my new posts in their feed.