I admit this posting is something of a meme, as it bears the same title as my old friend Patrick’s Facebook… I used to share his sentiments about this strange invention that made a very big fortune for the person who came up with the idea and had the technical expertise for it. For some people, it can be quite addictive. I am assuming that most of my readers have some experience with Facebook as regular or occasional users.

Addiction to Facebook would be of the psychological variety like compulsive gambling. For some people, it can be a means of trying to remake your life, live in the past, rehash things that have to be left in the past. Facebook can lull us into a false sense of security – but we never know who is reading what we say, whether on Facebook or on a blog.

It can be very tiresome when you receive e-mails about being tagged, poked and I don’t know what else. I get hundreds of requests for “friendship”, among which there are a few coming from spammers and scammers. It is all very bewildering. However, I found it useful to seek out people I knew years ago and lost touch with. A friendship (I mean a real one in real life) that has gone cold can take a lot of reviving. OK, that is the social side.

I find the group feature interesting, and I have set up one called Use of Sarum. I also occasionally post to Medieval Catholicism and Culture. For those who share my interest in sailing, there is Dinghy Cruising Association, which is highly active and entertaining. I find these groups more interesting than the old Yahoo Groups e-mail lists – more graphic and colourful, with all comments to postings available for all to read. This is a feature of Facebook that is positive.

When you open Facebook and have an account, you find a page showing the postings of all your “friends”. Some are extremely active and maintain a presence, like a cleric being on his virtual pastoral round. My Bishop likes a light-hearted approach and banter. As he explained to me, it keeps up the contacts with people he does know and minister to in real life. Another cleric whose postings featured in a posting I wrote a few days ago on this blog is concerned for humanitarian causes and the combat against indifference and the uncaring attitude of many people in the materialist west. In such a context, I found the video with the “box of dolls” and the grieving man holding his dead child presumably killed in Syria by Daesh. There are some who like to entertain us with extreme sports or feats of modern technology. It can go on for ever and we can end up spending too much time before switching to another site or doing something other than being in front of the computer.

Another option is to look at the top of the page and restrict ourselves to notifications of who has “liked” or commented on something we have posted or written. This also covers our activities on the groups feature, like my Sarum group and someone’s else’s Medieval Catholicism and Culture group. The latter has implemented a rule to prevent the group from being bogged down by contemporary Catholicism issues such as traditionalist vs. liberal or “true church” apologetics from the addicts to such issues.

Use of the internet, whether Facebook, blogs or fixed sites, takes critical out-of-the-box thinking and being oneself, not trying to be clever or setting out to impress. If we have something to contribute to discussion, then we have our opportunity. Other people might be critical or violently disagree. There are always our spooky troll friends out there somewhere with false names, invalid e-mail addresses and URL addresses that can’t be traced because they have special technology for that. If you fly in enemy territory, expect flak!

I have mixed feelings about Facebook, but I think I would lose out if I stopped using it completely within its limits as a “virtual pub” or place where special interests can be discussed. It can be quite stimulating, as it can, be frustrating and show the worst of sinful human nature. It has its place like the more serious blog and our quiet websites – equivalent to books on library shelves.

In the end, who is in charge, man or the machine? There are many negative aspects and we have to come to terms with them. The first thing to remember is that on the opening page, 99% of it is complete drivel. Trivia can be addictive, but it gets us nowhere in life. It is best to go on Facebook for a reason, the precise things that interest us, and never mind the rest. I was caught out the other day looking at trivia, where I found the “box of dolls” video.

Another thing to remember is that our “friends” are not friends, except the few we might know in real life. The internet is incapable of conveying emotions or body language. It makes us all “aspies” but socially and emotionally blinder than those with varying degrees on the autism spectrum. That is why people are so literalist on the internet – <sarcasm> great for discussing religion! </sarcasm>.

We do need to ask ourselves about what we like doing away from our computers. My main three are my priestly life, music and sailing. With a bit of effort, I do maintenance work on the house and what’s necessary in the garden. Then we have two young dogs to walk and work on their obedience training. That’s not too bad. Then of course, my work as a translator keeps me hooked to the computer.

Some people do well to give up Facebook completely. An alternative is to use it very selectively and as a tool. Are we self-critical enough? Good question. I don’t change my image very much, and stability is something as important as the mast-head on a blog. Facebook is a place to be more light-hearted and shallow than on a blog, but we do need to watch what we are saying for our own good. Don’t expose your intimate self!

I don’t send invitations, and I very rarely request a “friendship”. Many people have to wait a long time before being accepted by me, and many don’t make it because I cannot ascertain why they would want to “be my friend”. There are often no interests in common, and some profiles look suspicious, especially when they don’t use their real name. Too many friends make for a horribly long opening page with horrible videos and trivia.

Above all, know how the system is designed to work, and don’t let it manipulate you. Above all, have a real social life and enjoy doing things away from the computer.

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5 Responses to Facebook

  1. I notice, father, that sometimes you edit your articles after they are published, and after I have read them. When I read this article this morning, it concluded with something like: “who is in charge, men or the machines?”

    • It sometimes happens. I needed to develop the “addictive” dimension of Facebook, something whose real usefulness is quite narrow. Thanks for your take on it. I usually have to edit comments because typing errors have escaped me. How careless of me!

  2. Paul Goings says:

    Facebook can be a useful tool and/or a fun diversion, or else a terrible addiction and impediment to a life lived fully. But that can be said about so very many things, especially in this technological age.

    I understand that technology can be isolating, but so can real life, as many of us know well. Would it be pleasant to live cheek-by-jowl with our best mates, work together (at some honest job), and enjoy recreation together? Sure, I suppose, in some ways. But the world is what it is, and we must make our way the best we can, using whatever resources are available to make it a richer, fuller experience.

    In short, I cannot share Mr Sheridan’s unbounded condemnation, though I sympathize with him.

  3. T.S Eliot wrote prophetically in 1950: “I find only anxiety and apprehension about the social effects of this pastime, especially about its effect upon small children.” That was about television, which at the time, especially in Britain (I’m not sure about the United States), was a pastime or activity very much in the minority. A concrete example: for Her Majesty’s Coronation in 1953 my mother’s parents rented a television set because very few people owned one. Now television has, to a greater or lesser extent, been replaced by the Internet and social media in recent years, but Eliot’s letter can be applied here as much as to television. The damage that social media has done, whether to the society of friends (as opposed to solipsistically going through a mobile device or staring at a computer screen), or to peoples’ imaginations and individuality, has been enormous. I wish someone would make an investigation of this disturbing phenomenon and produce a report. There is also the issue of social media being a means of espionage, employers spying on employees and using “incriminating” photos or posts against them; or not seldom government officials going through suspect profiles, location services in mobile devices, and so on. Also the element of conformism which comes of social media. Do I not feel this acutely, as I am looked upon as a weirdo for not having a Facebook profile?

    It’s alright for you, father and Mr Goings. You are both much older than me, better read and experienced and have a culture. You remember a time before the Internet! My family didn’t always have a computer, of course, but my mother bought one for Christmass in the year 2000. I was twelve. For somebody my age, and even worse for people ten years younger, it’s very difficult to conceive of a life without the Internet and social media. I suppose for people not like me, who look upon the world without question or much complaint, it’s impossible. These are the materialistic, vain, over-sexed and de-cultured, mass-produced conformists apt to be good Nazis, or good secularists. And I am loath to say this about people. I’m not a snob but there is an element of vulgarity and conformism about social media, and the intense pressure to sign up, that I find deeply disturbing.

    • I was almost tempted to rewrite this comment from 30 years into the future, namely 2046. Fr Anthony and Paul Goings were laid to rest years ago and Patrick is getting on in years. Patrick remembers the old computers with keyboard and mouse, long before the brain implants of the new generation. Alternatively he could be writing in a post-apocalyptic perspective, when people would miss what they had but no longer have. My grandparents didn’t miss television because it hadn’t been invented, and when I was a teenager, a computer was something for someone who was really good at maths and liked looking at green numbers and symbols on a black screen.

      Do we evolve or regress, or just stay the same spiritually and mentally even though we invent new things all the time? For a long time, we have feared the totalitarian dystopia. It happened in Germany and Europe but it only lasted for 12 years. The Soviet system lasted longer before it imploded. Perhaps it will happen again, or is with us and will implode – banking, politics, policing, etc. Alternative news sites have been going on about “The End” for a long time, but it doesn’t come, any more than the Armageddon the fundamentalists are looking forward to as well. It just isn’t happening. The world goes on, with the occasional hiccup.

      One thing you can do, Patrick, is to extend your “experience” into the past by reading history. I have acquired knowledge from periods long before my birth. Remember that people in the past didn’t miss what they had never known, but they were modern in their time. I think the Victorian era was just as “conformist” as now, much more so in its stifling moralism. They might have blamed everything on newspapers, music halls and steam engines. The substance was the same, and only the accidents were different – putting it is scholastic language.

      We all need to be free in our choices, and above all discerning. Anything can be put to good or bad use. I agree with you that Facebook tends to guide us into the world of drivel and illusions of social life for extroverts. There are many pressures to play stupid games, ”sign up” for things, be funneled into systems in which we lose control. One can either refuse it en bloc – or negotiate with it, and turn it to your own advantage, using the system as what it is, a tool. That is a part of building character and taking on the challenges of their time. Your life predates that of others who will come in the future and interact with things we don’t know now.

      I have really come to the conclusion that the best things don’t come from earlier historical periods, but from enlightened individuals: writers, artists, composers, visionaries, inventors – those who make civilization and culture. We can be part of that “elite” just by being aware, self-aware and getting on with it. There always will be high culture and barbarianism coexisting at the same time. The Nazi hell was gone before I was born. The ambitions of Muslim jihadists to conquer and behead the world have existed since the 6th century – the end of the Roman Empire. The Romans had even more gruesome methods of torturing and killing people.

      Alongside ugliness and death, great beauty has abided and will continue to abide – with or without our help.

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