“Bifurcation of the mind”

(facebook-iconChristian Courier column, Jan. 26, 2015)

Facebook takes up an hour of my day, sometimes more. When my sister was visiting over the holidays, I was away from my computer a lot. I missed my Facebook time! This sparked some internal debate.

I like the contact with my family and friends, sharing their lives, seeing their photos. And playing Scrabble with them!

But my people-pleasing nature compels me to LIKE almost everything posted by everybody. After all, what if I inadvertently like one niece’s posts more often than another’s? Courtesy obliges me to interact and post comments. Birthdays, anniversaries, babies — it all requires time-consuming attention.

Knowing what others are doing can be a pitfall. A friend of mine discovered on Facebook that her sisters-in-law had enjoyed a shopping excursion without her. She was hurt that they hadn’t invited her. Plus, at any one time any number of Facebook friends are vacationing, dining out or attending sports events. The carnival atmosphere generated by a newsfeed full of “fun” can arouse envy in those who don’t have such opportunities — Facebook as a periscope to discontentment.

For those who are not net-savvy, Facebook usurps conversation. There is almost no news my mom can share about our family, our church or our community that I haven’t already seen on Facebook. This is frustrating for her. Social media marginalizes non-participants.

Let’s talk about family photos. I’m the worst offender, sharing dozens of pics of my grandchildren. But the endless parade of handsome portraits on Facebook – graduations, weddings, anniversaries, engagements – can exacerbate loneliness in those whose relationships are thin.

Facebook photos are deceptive, anyway, vetted for public consumption. Most of us share only those pictures in which we are satisfied with how we look. My double chin does not get posted to Facebook!

Facebook is a place where I can encourage others. I can reach out to the hurting and offer companionship to those who need friendship.

Some truth here. I’ve received and sent heartfelt messages of concern and condolence. When I say I will pray for a friend, I do. But much communication on Facebook is blatantly superficial. It’s comfortably undemanding to LIKE someone’s post about depression; an entirely different matter to schedule a weekly coffee with a fraying soul.

Facebook is an inexhaustible source of information, a learning place. The more friends, the more content to browse.

Many of my Facebook friends post links that are thoughtful and worth reading. Gifted photographer friends share images whose beauty inspires joy. But many posts are mere click-bait. And for every Christian quotation that builds up my faith, there is a polarizing headline that reduces Christianity to mere jargon.

I conclude some things

Facebook’s titanic influence is shaping culture. Think of the exploitation of social media by ISIS. Or the current controversy at Dalhousie University where male members of a dentistry class created a Facebook page to engage in sexually explicit conversations and fantasies, some violent, about their female classmates and professors. A formal complaint has resulted in the suspension of 13 students while this is investigated. On the economic side, Frontline’s Generation Like, a PBS documentary series, details how Facebook has birthed a new currency of LIKES, and how the consumer is now simultaneously a marketer, an explosive new phenomenon.

I’m not about to give up Facebook, but I want to be alert to its potential to shrink my world. Peggy Noonan, columnist with The Wall Street Journal, writes, “A lot of people seem here, but not here. They’re pecking away on a piece of plastic; they’ve withdrawn from the immediate reality around them and set up temporary camp in a reality that exists in their heads. It involves their own music, their own conversation, whether written or oral.”

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, suggests that Facebook causes a “bifurcation of the mind.” While we exist in reality, we are also constantly half-living to the third person view of our reality — our Facebook audience, each of us starring as the hero in a mini-universe of our own design.

This gives me pause. My life belongs to Jesus. I want to live for him, however stumblingly. In seeking to be socially “connected,” I must guard against being subsumed by a torrent of bite-sized distractions. I must fight the temptation to fashion a Cathy-avatar styled for Facebook consumption. I must heed Paul’s advice, still applicable today: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God” (Rom. 12: 1,2. The Message).

 

 

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