Well, it happened.
Last Friday, after a week or so of preparing people, I did what I thought to be the unthinkable. I DELETED MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!
Now, Facebook is tricksy: they like to give you two weeks before deleting your account, just in case you change your mind. That e-mail they sent haunts me: I can still revert, I can still go back!
But I refuse to. This is what I must do. But, I must admit, it has not been easy! Suddenly I feel disconnected from the world. How will the world know if – God willing – the bishop decides to call me to ordination? How will I tell friends and family alike? How can I share the latest articles I’ve come across, the newest ideas, the latest books, the mundane activities of my life? I must admit it: there is slight separation anxiety attached with this detachment. It is not easy.
Furthermore, how am I to find out what sort of events are going on around town with my friends? How will I know what is going down? I feel separated, lost, and scrambling to distract myself in other realms of my life.
But, in the end, despite the difficulty, despite the slight anxiety, I realize this has been a good thing. I did not realize how much time Facebook was taking up in my life until I left it. How easy it was to go on my phone and check it out. How easy it was to just sit at my computer and engage in rather pointless discussions. In the end, it was more a waste of time than anything else.
But there is a further element of reflection from all this: the separation anxiety is real, but it is because our world has reduced communication to social media. We are unable to communicate outside of it. This has all occurred within the span of five years at the most! That is a scary change, one that, I believe, is the result of the unreflective spirit of our age. As I mentioned in my previous post, we have a tendency to take upon new technologies simply because they are new and not because they are good. We refuse to ask “what are we losing with all this?” It is a question we must always ask. In the end, as Neil Postman observes, every new technology means that we lose something. The invention of writing began to be the end of oral tradition and profound memory, for example. It’s not necessarily bad, but it means we lose something in the process of gaining something else.
My question today, however, is whether this form of communication through social media is actually good? The reactions I got against leaving Facebook, the fact that people felt they would be unable to communicate with me by leaving it tells me there is something wrong here. If something creates the inability to communicate any other way, then I think we need to begin to re-evaluate and ask whether we are on the right path. The more I reflect on it, the more I think that we are not on the right path. I see an inability to confront and talk face to face. I see an inability to communicate person to person. When communication loses the personal element, then we are no longer communicating.
To me, communication must take all three transcendentals into account: the true, the good, and the beautiful. In fact, all activity should be done in truth, for the good of myself and others, and in an attractive/enticing manner. That is the ethos which governs my life. Technology, however, has lost its aetsthetic value, its ability to put forward an attractive truth claim, to form an attractive ethos. With the loss of the aesthetic dimension, with “the beautiful” being removed from the realm of technology, all that is left is facts in place of truth, activism instead of goodness. When you remove a transcendental, all else becomes pointless because all the other transcendentals lose that which makes them what they are. Truth needs beauty and goodness to be truth, beauty needs truth and goodness to be beauty, and goodness needs truth and beauty to be itself. The internet, I believe, does not have the moral or aesthetic dimension. With this, I see the internet only as a place for fact finding. One can find resources, articles, news, etc. This is good. But it is not a place of communication. The only exception I will give to this is e-mail because it mimics letter writing. It still loses the essential element of reflectivity – it’s so easy to write without much reflection in email – but it can allow for that element. I have yet to see that reflectivity anywhere else on the internet.