The following is a brief reflection written about a lecture given by Professor Michael Bruner, (expected) Doctor of Theology. I sum up highlights of his argument and pose my own thoughts about them. This reflection begins with the response to Facebook as a Christ-follower but ultimately regards the general interest of humanity, no matter what religion. I hope to encourage some dialogue about this daily matter of our culture.
In Professor Bruner’s lecture “Effacebook: Would Jesus Friend You?” he spoke about the messages that Facebook and social media send us and the implications of them—and why they are damaging our culture. Relationships and community is an important property of the Christian life, as well as self-reflection and identity. Facebook, though it assumes to promote these things, actually turns the opposite direction. Reflecting on the truths revealed in Bruner’s lecture, it is no wonder that Jesus would neither “friend” anyone on Facebook, nor even sign on to Facebook.
Professor Bruner’s first pointed out that Jesus came to the world in the flesh, not in a virtual sense. This simple statement develops an idea that for interactions of importance and value to take place, a living and breathing element is essential. True relationships cannot be virtual; they must be literally fleshed out. In contrast, Facebook and social networking serves to disembody the individual; interactions can become completely anonymous and are one-dimensional reductions of words and images. Examining my own relationships, I noticed that none of my close friendships have been built by social media, and they will not thrive without personal encounters. In a face-to-face conversation, there are more than words being exchanged between people. In addition, there is an intense flow of non-verbal communication in tone, body language, facial cues, interactions with the present environment, etc. Because of the expedience of Facebook as a social network, it becomes a dangerously easy to accept this form of communication that lacks the nuances that actually bond people.
Partner to this hollow communication is the essence of the Facebook profile. Professor Bruner also built a main portion of his argument demonstrating the way the Facebook profile strips us of our humanity. “Sufficient complexity,” he said, is the definition of a human; to understand who we are, we have to accept we are complex beings that are more than the sum of our parts. This is a profound statement that is not reflected much in our culture (especially with mindsets deeply rooted in dualism). Even in our language we reduce ourselves, content to categorical statements such as, “I am ugly,” or “She is an accountant,” or “He is a punk,” or “I am insane.” I wonder if our self-images would change if we began to rephrase ourselves by saying instead, “She works as an accountant,” or “He acts like a punk,” or “My mind is making me feel disoriented,” or even “I think my body looks ugly”—at least the attribute is going only to the body and not to the entirety of one’s being. However, our culture is extremely comfortable in our self-simplifications, shown by our gleeful compliance in filling out our social network profiles. Bruner stated that there is not a social network that attempts to define humans and our needs. The Facebook profile tells that we only consist of a birthplace, birthday, gender, family ties, significant other, “friends,” occupation, current setting, activities, personal “likes,” opinions, and a thousand images of yours truly. This profile ultimately contains a few facts and a load of self-promotion. For example, by viewing my profile, one might learn that I am a female that likes outdoor activities and went rock-climbing in Sawtooth Canyon last October to prove it. But what my profile lacks is the expression of the utter joy I felt by spending a day with close friends exploring the gritty desert rocks in the mild fall sunshine. It lacks the way I smelled, or how dirty I looked after the day was done. It lacks how my muscles burned and knees bled on a particularly difficult route that I was determined to conquer. It lacks the way the trail mix tasted, the sound of laughter and struggle, or my awe of the quiet boy who could climb despite the uselessness of his left thumb and index finger. The representation via Facebook is at best un-poetic. At worst, it offensively diminishes the human being, and we click “Post” without blinking.
However, people (I) will continue to use Facebook because it is not completely evil and does provide beneficial resources. Because our world is fast-paced, we have adapted by creating fast methods of communication, and Facebook triumphs as one of the best forms of quick mass communication. Events can be configured and spread quickly to a lot of people, a productive venue for social coordination (an extreme example being a revolution that caught fire via Facebook). But the Facebook insult still remains. Perhaps a place to start is to refuse let a virtual profile tell us who we are. Then, maybe we will start realizing that status-updating and picture-posting for every activity is not an important part of our lives. Finally, I suppose I could get off the instant messenger and call my friend on the phone to ask him if he wants to go on a hike this weekend and catch up.