Of Facebook and Twittering Birds (or rather Tweeting)

Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and blogs are so much a part of our lives today that it has become difficult to imagine the world before online social networking.

Much has been written on the topic of social networking over the Internet, and some of the articles on this topic have been engaging and even instructional. I don’t intend to add any original contributions to this issue from a theological perspective, but rather would just like to call to mind some of the principles dictating our use of these tools. To this end, I propose asking ourselves three questions:

1. Is it ultimate?

When your time and effort is consumed with such activities, and you suffer from withdrawal symptoms when you abstain from their use for a period, then I would argue that it is ultimate. You have elevated it to a position in your heart that compels you to dedicate the majority of your time to it, and that causes you to hunger for it in its absence. That position is reserved for God alone. Anything or anyone else that occupies that position is an idol. To be proud of your addiction to social networking sites (or to any other idol for that matter) is a derogatory offense to God, because you are taking pride in your rebellion against him. Some people wear this (addiction) as a badge of pride, but it is in reality the slavery chain of sin.

Also, it is easy to fall into the trap of ignorantly elevating a means of glorifying God into an end. Some might see Facebook as an efficient way to keep in touch with people and minister to their needs – but if all you ever do is spend time on Facebook and not with the actual people themselves, then I don’t think I’m too far off the mark when I denounce that it has become an end.

2. Is it wise?

The Bible constantly calls for us to make the most of our time, using it wisely, because the days are evil (Eph 5: 16). Some people regard Facebook as an effective tool to reach as many people as possible with some truth of the gospel. I agree that if the tool is there, and it’s already filled with so much nonsense, having a shred of truth there can only help some. But then I would ask whether it’s the best use of the time you’ve been given. This is something that each must decide for himself. I’ve personally worked out that Facebook is great for dropping a comment here and there (especially birthday wishes), engaging in the occasional banter, and organising events. I used to look at Facebook statuses and photos, before I realised I would hardly talk to most of the people I was looking at (which begs the question why they’re on my ‘friends’ list). So I’ve also tried to cut this down to closer friends and relatives. This in turn has freed me up to use my time for more profitable pursuits, whether it’s reading a book, doing that extra bit of studying or research, and meeting up with friends in person.

3. Is it narcissistic?

In other words, do you use social networking tools to bolster what people think of you? Is it an expression of your own vanity? The word comes from the Greek legend of Narcissus. Using the Wikipedia description, Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a  pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away and changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. Are you so in love with yourself that you must announce to the world everything that is going on in your own world, or should that only be reserved for a few close friends and those who sincerely ask you? Occasional status updates are not a bad thing, but if you seem to be updating something about yourself every hour or two, with trivial comments like ‘eating a kit kat bar’, ‘staring at book’, ‘thinking of her’, you might want to consider the motives behind these comments. People don’t generally blab out loud in public about what they are feeling or doing. The same might be somewhat true of the tweeting world, although I do leave some negotiating room for legitimate expression of one’s self. Another common expression of vanity I’ve observed is that of posting ‘profound’ statements, which in fact make no sense and only serve to add to your ‘mystique and intellect’.

What exactly is the problem if your use of Facebook and Twitter is an expression of your narcissism? I think it serves to increasingly turn a person’s focus in on himself, such that his every waking thought is preoccupied with himself. And the consequences of this are not dissimilar to those of Narcissus, who was unable to ‘consummate’ his love. In other words, loving yourself leads nowhere but increasing self-despair. You can never satisfy yourself with yourself. Also, it doesn’t encourage humility, which C.S. Lewis helpfully explains as not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. And if we truly desire to be Christ-like, then we ought to make progress in humility. And for the record, I just can’t imagine Jesus tweeting, “praying on mountainside. will select 12 disciples in a moment” or “walking on water. will update when I reach boat”.

Some concluding remarks

Some of you might disagree with what I have had to say. Some might even reckon that my blogging is in some ways narcissistic, in that I think everyone ought to listen to me. I can’t deny that some selfish motive along those lines does exist somewhere within my sinful heart, but by the grace of God I hope the three questions above might be a useful guideline in deciding the manner in which we use social networking sites for the glory of God.

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