Fellowship, Formation and the “Facebook Effect”

7 comments Written on April 16th, 2012     
Filed under: Social Networking
Today’s post is written by Geoff Twigg, Adjunct Professor at North Park University in Chicago. Geoff is a pastor, singer/songwriter, worship leader and ministry consultant, and serves the ECC as a member of the denomination’s Commission on Worship.

You’ve heard the story by now. Through organizing and running a Midwinter workshop around ‘Planning for the worship arts’ in January 2011, Matt Nightingale (with colleagues) created our Better Together group on Facebook. The idea was to continue the conversation and encourage one another as well as suggesting new ideas and best practice. Many more have joined us – to date we have over 240 participants. Facebook seems to be the best place for this kind of thing to happen, because it’s possible to control participation in the group ‘by invitation’ while maintaining a blog-style entry system and plenty of capacity for photo, video and text entries with links and email notifications. The only technical drawbacks we’ve seen involve the absence of tags or keywords. This leads to the “I know I saw it here somewhere” problem, through the lack of indexing or search ability. However, letting my mind wander as I scanned the current topics of discussion this week, a disturbing angle came to mind – not exclusively a Facebook problem, but a ‘social media’ phenomenon of less-than-friendly proportions. Let me explain.

According to Jaron Lanier, (a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author of the book You Are Not a Gadget) an emerging problem with Facebook is not quite as you’d expect. Older people have little trouble with the system, using it to maintain friendships and polite dialog, interspersed with family news and best wishes. Younger people, however, especially those still in the process of character formation, find that the “consistently interesting, always happy, always fun” quality of posts in Facebook are unnerving. We post highlights, (as do our friends) but we think of their posts as depicting normal life. A life much more interesting, entertaining and full of friends than our own.

Andy Braner (a Youth, Camp and Missions Leader in Colorado) in his blog, quotes another expert, Dr. Larry D. Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University about the damaging psychological effects of social media and then adds further evidence of his own. Braner finds that young people readily concede that they only put up the funniest, wittiest most fascinating aspects of their lives, never adding a depressing photo or a confessional anecdote. However they read everyone else’s entries as if they depicted normality – implying that all their friends must lead amusing, varied and intensely enjoyable lives while they themselves have only the occasional highlight to share. Why should we worry? We’re all adults, balanced in our views and comfortable with our identity. We’re simply interested in encouraging one another and recommending best practice. Anyway, it’s just for fun. I do wonder, however, if we don’t sometimes look at the entertaining posts, colorful video and lively discussion and sense a shadow of the malaise these experts are describing? Let’s call it the Facebook effect… and see if we can see it in our dreams about what our church might be.

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7 comments “Fellowship, Formation and the “Facebook Effect””

I occasionally have to remind my children (who are 13) that Facebook is not real life! Good points, Geoff, and ones that I hope we all take to heart.

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While it’s true that we tend to post the wittiest and most interesting tidbits of our day to day lives, as a true member of the facebook generation (being the same age as its creator and having created my account within months of its release), I don’t agree that it paints an unrealistic picture. Because as often as I see the happy, life-is-great status updates, I also see an equal share of complaints, prayer requests, humorous links, political and religious opinions/debates, and the hourly musings of my stay-at-home-mom friends who more often than not are sharing their latest struggle in parenting their children. Perhaps it’s a generational difference in how we use facebook, but I don’t get any illusions about the lives of my friends based on their facebook sharing. (If you want to see an arena where this DOES happen, however, check out the mommy-photographer-crafty-blogger subculture. Holy moly do they make life look perfect!)

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Great post, Geoff. I have mixed feelings about it. Debra is right… I see a lot of real life sharing on Facebook, and I get a lot of real benefit from the fellowship I find there. On the other hand, I definitely know that I have a tendency to put my best foot forward, to post my best photos, to try to spin things in a way that makes me look really good.

I think it translates into church stuff too. I love hearing about what others are doing in worship. I get lots of good ideas… but I also compare myself and Redeemer to others. I can very easily slip into insecurity and jealousy… which leads me to try to sound even more cool and self-assured and brilliant… Ugh. It’s a vicious cycle.

Reminds me of many shallow Midwinter conversations I’ve overheard or been a part of:

“How are things at your church?”

“Great! Man, we had the greatest… [fill-in-the-blank-with-amazing-numbers-or-programs-or-whatever]… this last year!”

It’s probably not about Facebook. It’s probably about me.

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I don’t know if facebook really accentuates the “grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side” tendency that we humans have lived with since the advent of private property, and maybe earlier.  I have also seen a fair share of honesty on facebook.

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I think Matt has it right. Facebook isn’t “guilty” of an unbalanced representation… but we can receive that effect – as it shifts our point of view – it might put our lives into an unfortunate perspective. (Like you, Greg I see a fair share of honesty from some folks, but I also see a ‘best face’ on some things, and an inability to share openly because of the unpredictably wide audience.
I’m not going to say what I mean when I know it might get back to someone who could be hurt or offended.)

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Great stuff as usual Geoff! I love the responses so far.

I think you’re onto something but also agree with the comments here re. “that’s the way it is… even in church”. Truth.

Love the line from Greg “…tendency that we humans have lived with since the advent of private property, and maybe earlier.” Indeed.

The other great comment imho is your own Geoff: “I’m not going to say what I mean when I know it might get back to someone who could be hurt or offended.” There is often real love in this.

Then again there are times when love speaks the truth… in love but with little varnish. Feelings are not unimportant for sure! But in matters of deep importance feelings must not “lord it over” genuine truth-discussion either.

I suppose much healing involves the pain of the scalpel and medicines, sometimes uncomfortable methods.

But the deeper truth may be this: Facebook and other social media cannot authentically accomplish the intimacy and healing in face-to-face church relationships done well. And it’s those we’re all more in need of.

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Then that group of students graduates and a new group comes in and the
pattern repeats, he said.

Check ouut my web page; twerk daance (Dani)

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