Facebook (along with Instagram, Twitter, texting, and the like) get a lot of criticism. Ironically, it seems that at least half of the people criticizing these methods of communication use them to some degree (and the ones who refuse often end up peeking on somebody else’s anyway!) We all kind of love and kind of hate these millennial methods of communication. They are so much a part of our lives but we often wonder what kind of freedom we might feel without it and what our relationships (and self esteem) might be like. So we complain about it, we sign out, say our goodbyes, and then end up back in a few months or weeks or days or even hours. What’s the deal?
There is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook, texting, etc. In fact, they are good things. Like the newspaper, the telegram, the telephone- they are further developments in the more efficient spreading of information, ideas, encouragement, joy, and countless other positive things (and inevitably, negative things too, but this holds true for the newspaper, telephone, etc. anyway.) We have the ability to choose how to use these methods of communication. We have the choice of how much to share, what to expose, how much communication is done through them, and how much of our relational time is spent in person. We can use Facebook for good or for bad. And if Facebook is ruining anything, it’s really not ruining anything- we are the ones ruining whatever is being ruined and we are using Facebook to do it.
And yet, why does it feel like it’s Facebook’s fault? Why does it seem that the problems we attribute to Facebook are new and epidemic and directly correlated with the social media boom? Where would they come from if not from social media itself?
I suggest that the problems have been around forever. They’re a part of human nature. And anytime humanity develops further- becomes more efficient, more wealthy, more talented, more connected, more intellectual- the problems become more pronounced because there are more and new opportunities for them. Just as though when a child grows up he has more opportunity to learn and do good things, he also has more opportunity to get into trouble. This is precisely why we have such nostalgia for the “good old days.” Things were safer. But we were also more limited in our ability to do great and wonderful things. Progress demands moving beyond what feels safe. And progress is necessary to personal and communal human fulfillment.
And so we are stuck with the inevitability of further communication growth. It’s not going to stop with Facebook. So how do we stop ourselves from misusing it all? How do we protect our humanity from being trampled and deadened by the race of progress?
I believe that we have to go back, far back. Yes, we have to go back to the “good old days”- but not in terms of technology. We have to go back to the concept of self-discipline. We have to go back to the concept of personal virtue. The reason we feel so trampled upon by the new modes of communication is because simultaneous with their advent has been the decline in the pursuit of personal virtue. We culturally don’t believe or teach that courage, humility, love, graciousness, self-control, patience, or especially joy and happiness, are things that can be actually chosen for oneself and truly practiced and accomplished. We put in their place a “follow-your-heart” i.e. follow-your-impulse mentality. And with this mentality, we let all the elements of progress overtake and control us as we fall to our every emotional or psychological whim. Progress gives way to more opportunity for character weakness. When we have nothing keeping our character in check, progress will destroy us.
And yet, it doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t have to be controlled. We are able to control ourselves. And this is what we must do with Facebook. There are three main weaknesses that Facebook plays off of: vanity, voyerism, and a short-attention span. If we want to avoid being overcome by these weaknesses we have to be proactive. In the following posts I want to address concrete ways to be proactive in fighting each of these weaknesses– concrete ways to stay connected through social media and the other communication advances without letting them get in the way of your life.