Why Facebook Is The Devil

I was writing fiction, and when I seriously considered describing my character’s feeling of anxiety as similar to “the heightened feeling of angst that came from copying something onto his clipboard and getting immediately distracted, knowing it to still be there and ready to be pasted, but forgetting entirely what it was,” I realized that I a) need a new career, b) need more sleep, and c) that I am – like so many of my peers – undeniably affected by the Internet Age, and that – for all its benefits – our Facebooking culture is not helping me along my life’s path to fulfillment.

“This would make a really great Facebook status” is one of the many Internet-thoughts entirely unique to the modern world. It occurs after some Really Great Event, chance happening, wonderful day, or hilarious statement made by a normally subdued friend. It is the sudden moving outwards from the Really Great Event to the future, from “Wow, I’m so freaking cool I just went sledding and broke my pelvis” to “Wow, imagine the reaction to ‘Wow, I’m so freaking cool I just went sledding and broke my pelvis.”

(Okay, admittedly bad example. I don’t care the method I find out about you shattering your pelvis, I’ll take it. With some video, if you’ve got it. Anyways:)

This may be a personal neurosis, but the existence of these Internet-thoughts depresses me all Holden-Caulfield-like. First by way of an irrational feeling, that the moment something is conceived as being updated on Facebook, or tweeted, or tumblr(ed), or socially networked on whatever social network you’re currently networking your society with, well, it loses something. You’re dead to it and it to you, in a way.

After all, is that not dying to the present moment – moving on from it? Is a man thinking about the future not but a ghost, dwelling neither here nor there? When you’re in a group of friends and something insightful or funny is said, phones are whipped out and passionate mutters of “Tweet-worthy” are heard all around, everyone has removed themselves from the present moment and thrust their experience out to the world to be validated.

Thought Experiment: If you Facebooked/tweeted/blogged/shared the greatest moment of your life and no one ‘liked’ it, would you think less of the moment? Would you think less of your friends? Is either option any good? Is ‘liking’ something on Facebook actually ‘liking’ it, or is it usually validating that it exists, i.e. “Yes, you did say/post that.”?

That’s not at all to say things shouldn’t be shared, but we share them like words on a tombstone, brief summations of the life of the thing – that really amount to its death. Why? Because as soon as we move from the event to the status update, when we give the event a small conglomerate of signs and symbols that by their nature as words cannot fully describe – hence, “you had to be there” – we make our events small, and then we are done with them. We try and make ourselves, in some strange way, the victors of that moment. Our experience has been wrestled into submission by our adjectives.

Question: Why do we feel awkward when people post deep and meaningful Facebook statuses? Why does the notification “John Smith I’ll always miss her, no matter if she misses me” make us squirm? Or is it just me? Is it because the words are far too big and telling, or that they are far too small for such a tale?

Thought Experiment: Two people are watching a beautiful sunset. The first person watches. The second person pulls out his iPhone, snaps a shot, tweets it with a caption ‘watching a beautiful sunset’ then gets back to watching the sunset. Who is watching the sunset?

The second has certainly conquered the moment. It has been captured, sent, and subjugated to description. But I hold that the greatest moments should conquer us. All moments should conquer us. That’s what it means to be open to God; to be open to having our wills entirely conquered. To live in the present moment is to live with the willingness to be swept away. Is to name moments – to update your status with them – to lose them? Maybe. Sometimes.

“I went skydiving! it was amaaaaziiiing” is certainly some form of loss.

On the other hand, poetry can take moments and by way of not naming them allow them to maintain their power. Merton writes “the black girls talk as quiet as clay” and he hasn’t lost his moment at all. He has shared it while not sharing it; said it by not really saying it. It does not conquer the moment, because within the word ‘clay’ the moment has not been pinned down. And it is very beautiful.

Like the clouds the other day, here on the hill. They were apocalyptic. They looked like slippery otters diving into otters diving into otters. I have no picture, because for some nearly unnameable reason, I could not bear to join the line of people taking pictures.

Walker Percy:

Seeing the [Grand] Canyon is made even more difficult by what the sight- seer does when the moment arrives, when sovereign knower confronts the thing to be known. Instead of looking at it, he photographs it. There is no confrontation at all. At the end of’ forty years of preformulation and with the Grand Canyon yawning at his feet, what does he do? He waives his right of seeing and knowing and records symbols for the next forty years. For him there is no present; there is only the past of what has been formulated and seen and the future of what has been formulated and not seen. The present is surrendered to the past and the future.

I asked some one whether he’d seen those clouds. He said, “Oh yeah, I have a picture!” But I’d seen the clouds.

Perhaps this is one of those arguments that isn’t really an argument. Shall we call it a reflection and let it slide? If there’s a point at all – there may not be – it is this: Our Internet-culture has created a social-networking world that effectively allows us – if we wish – to escape the Present by passing our moments onto it. And as C.S. Lewis asked, “Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?”

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Walker Percy Interviews Himself
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The Art of Dying
  • Sleeping Beastly


    • Anonymous

      I saw what you did there.

  • Jackie H

    Thanks for this! It’s a great reminder that while social networking is useful, we would probably profit from it even more if we didn’t let it consume us quite so much!

  • Jay E.

    Hmm, interesting and well said. Very worthy of the venerable Walker Percy. Great point in the Thought Experiment. Not having Facebook, when I do, I’ll have to try it. :XD:

  • http://profiles.google.com/tobie.rose Rosemary M

    I was totally going to bring up Walker Percy in this comment before I reached the end of the post and saw you quoted him! I taught the essay that quote is taken from to college freshmen for four semesters in a row, and for some reason never thought to apply it to Facebook statuses … doh!

  • Christopher Mathieu

    I have been to the Grand Canyon. Visited it once on my way to California, hitting tourist spots en route. When I got there, I just stood there and took it all in. I had a camera, but I didn’t see any point in photographing it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the effect.

    I *did* take a single picture while I was there. The subject was a minuscule, bright green lizard that was perched on the edge of the walkway with its tongue sticking out. That little reptile was my unique link, the reminder I’d take of a view that was truly once-in-a-lifetime.

    Lots of people have pictures of the canyon. No one else has the lizard. And there’s no point in my sharing it with others; it won’t have the same impact with them.

    • Genevieve

      I decided the same thing when seeing the Pope at World Youth Day. It seemed silly to experience the brief moments when he was close through the tiny screen of the camera worrying about when was the right moment to get the best shot unobscured by all the rest of the people holding up their cameras. So, I decided to see and hear and pray and experience the blessings, and, if I needed photos, there were many much better ones to be found on the internet.

  • Janice

    I love a lot of what you say here in this post. I don’t know if you are taking/will ever take an art history credit in university. If you don’t, I highly recommend reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag. She talks about the surrealism of photography and the act of taking pictures. I think you would find it very fascinating. She elaborates on many points such as Percy made. I’m sure she would find the internet equally surreal.

    Keeping on the same topic, I often run into these feelings when I scrapbook. I love taking beautiful pictures, and I want to display them beautifully, and yet I do not want them to be the only thing I remember about the experience. I also never know what to write in the albums (nor on my facebook status usually). Words always seem so hollow. To simply say it was ‘amazing’ or ‘the best ____ ever’ (fill in the blank), seems to cheapen the moment.

    • Genevieve

      The incidents I remember best, especially from my early childhood, are those which had a photo taken. Looking at photos evokes so many memories of those events, and of hearing my mother tell us so many stories which brought them back to life.

  • Anonymous

    Arguably the same can be said of IRL relationships—people do, after all, dwell not on the greatness of something, but on how much it’ll impress their friends. I think at worst social networking has just made people confuse “hundreds of incredibly slight acquaintances” with “peers” or even “friends”.

    I seem to recall the guy who draws Dilbert (trivia, he’s a Spinozan pantheist) once said something to the effect that technology’s not really bad, it just makes people’s bad traits more readily accessible. I think the traits he mentioned were “stupidity, selfishness, and horniness”, but the principle holds for other flaws, too. And this phenomenon certainly predates social networking sites.

  • Karyn

    I’ve heard bloggers lament the same thing – that as they’re experiencing something, they’re already figuring out how to turn it into a blog post. Maybe some of it is the fear of the seeming chaos of the world. If all events or feelings can be turned into a status update or blog post, then we’re in control. Or maybe it’s feeling so insignificant in the “global community” – but if you can write a cool status or post, then you do exist. “I tweet, therefore I am.”

  • Beth D.

    Haha so true! I admit I’ve been guilty of a lot of what was talked about but I totally agree with you.

  • http://sainteasy.blogspot.com Paige Deaner

    I feel that same way about digital photography! Back in the stone-age, you had a camera with a roll of film with 24 exposures and you took 24 choice photos and put the camera away. Now, everywhere you go you have people snapping pictures like crazy, and not even enjoying the event that they are photographing. My husband is guilty of this, there are so many times I want to tell him to put down the damn camera!

    I’m a wedding planner and this is so evident in wedding photography. I think it’s important for people to have pictures of their weddings, don’t get me wrong. But have you ever looked at your grandparents’ wedding album (if they even have one)? They have no more than 20 pictures if they have that. I think my grandparents have 12, most of which are the family photos and a couple taken outside of the Church. My grandmother has one of her photos in a frame in their living room to this day. When I got married, my photographer (there were TWO of them) took no fewer than 1800 USABLE shots! 1800! I have no wedding album because the idea of having to go through them makes me panic. I have 3 printed and framed. And that’s it. I would have been happier with 12 photos.

    My point is… I totally agree. :)

  • http://twitter.com/PHoelscher17 Patrick Hoelscher

    So Marc, I was on ImprovEverywhere.com today when I came across this video and I, rather ironically, thought immediately of this article. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. http://youtu.be/soAk3F0wX9s

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/hermit/ Stephen Taylor

    Elizabeth, another fine piece of writing. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing. The reason for that is it all depends on the moment. If I take a picture it is for memory sake, and I do not share them on the interwebs. All the great art of world history was created to capture some moment, some sight, something that moved the artist to write, paint, or sculpt. Look at the Vatican, it is full of art, the Twitter of those days.

    I grant absolutely that most people tweet and post the most inane things possible. Sometimes what is photographed is kept for the sheer beauty, to be shared only with those who will appreciate that beauty. Ansel Adams photographs are art, and in those I am in that moment.

    The danger of someone not liking your post hahaha, 99% of my posts are not liked and I couldn’t care less. Why? Because I don’t need that approval. Many do, I know, but the question arises, why do you post? Is it for approval? Or is it for memory sake. I get letters asking for prayer from Facebook people I don’t know on a weekly basis. It is all in how we use Facebook and Twitter, that is where the sin can creep in.

    Great post. :-) (Where is that like button?) :-)

  • Miss Doyle

    That’s it! I’ve been thinking about it for ages, but Facebook is definitely gone (well, it will be in 5 mins after I’ve finished this, unless I forget!). My experience has been not only the loss of so much time which could be better spent elsewhere, but that without wanting to, I know all this stuff about all of my ‘friends’ which fill my mind when it could be filled with other more important things.
    My brain has lost the ability to filter and not to hold on to stuff which doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not saying that it’s the same for everyone, but it hasn’t enhanced my life.

  • Campym

    yeah-.. where, except in the present , can the Eternal be met? that’s very heavy- i noticed “ETERNAL”capitalized………

  • Donna

    But … is there not something really noble here? Admittedly, I am guilty of much of the above at one time or another (except for Facebook which I have avoided at the advice of my computer guru son). I relate to it well: I’ll be driving into Mass in the morning and see fresh rays of light on a rural scene, and my first thought is always, “Dang, where is my camera when I need it?”

    What is it in us that compels us to immediately raise a camera – or record thoughts and images with words and paint brushes? And I believe “compel” is a most accurate word. Something occurs deep within us: the driving message is “I must keep this for myself, and I must share it with others.”

    Could it not be viewed that instead of missing out on something, some are responding to a deep interior urge to capture the grandeur of God, or, in essence, to seize God Himself who is the maker of light, landscape, people and bon mots. For a photographer or an artist, it is all about light and colour. With photography, we now have the ability to capture a light or colour pinnacle so that we shall always have it. With some skill and some luck we can reproduce it perfectly for others to share.

    To “share it” might be akin to a Eucharistic thought. This is God’s world and we are His people: the body of Christ. We are already connected; we are one body, and the need to share is a natural outgrowth of that connectedness. “See the beauty I see!” we are saying to others, knowing they too love beauty, for these are the souls who share the same body; these are the very ones whom we know are made in the image and likeness of God and who are part of us, as we are part of them.

  • Peter

    its kind of bad because the first thing i thought of after reading this post was that i needed to share it on facebook. done.

  • Anonymous

    I felt this way in Rome, before the Pieta (and really, before many, many things — including all of St. Peter’s) — all around me people were barely looking at Michelangelo’s great work. They were snapping pictures, showing the picture they’d just snapped and talking and moving on. I didn’t want a picture of the Pieta; I really, really wanted to SEE it. But it was difficult with all that busyness going on around me….

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PCY3SEDRDWJO7Y53O75IUXG2NQ Mark

    Hmmmm. So how is a blog not like a Facebook wall?

    • Marc

      When it’s good, it’s essay writing – a similarly doomed attempt at conveyance. When it’s bad – no difference at all.

  • Jill Haltigan

    I have a FB friend, whom I do not yet know in real life, who is directly responsible for calling me back to the Church. Technology is all in how you use it.

  • Mike O’B.

    What we make of Facebook can be the Devil. You write and think, therefore you are. Always we face temptations and strive for balance. Continue to fight your good fight! God Bless!

  • Kate

    My first reaction was to post one of your great lines as my facebook status.

  • Joe

    Question: Sex is not intrinsically harmful, but a photograph of the marital embrace almost certainly is. I can’t think of a situation where such a photograph would not be harmful, and frankly, I don’t want to spend all that much time thinking of a situation where it wouldn’t be. But doesn’t this point to the fact that there is something intrinsically harmful about photography? One thinks of those legendary Africans who wouldn’t allow themselves to be photographed because they believed the camera would steal their soul.

    • http://scrutinies.net Dorian Speed

      How would that mean there was something intrinsically harmful about photography, any more than the existence of Peeping Toms means there’s something intrinsically harmful about eyes?

  • Dean Gardner

    Sharing on Facebook….

  • Catherine

    What a great post. While social networking sites are a fantastic way of spreading ideas and facilitating discussions, at their most banal they also contribute to this very modern phenomenon of consciously constructing our own narrative as we go through our lives.

    Photos, FB statuses, Twitter timelines can very easily become less a way of reflecting reality than recording the way we want to be seen (or see ourselves). It’s a short step from that to never confronting the reality at all.

    Perhaps our predecessors were more able humbly to approach God, confess their shortcomings and mistakes and ask for forgiveness and grace than are we, who have become accustomed to digitally airbrush any imperfections from the record.

  • Felix Kong

    I find it hilarious that at the bottom of this article – lo behold the “share on facebook” button.

    • michael griggs

      you know i said the same what a crock of shit

      • michael griggs

        and1624 idiots and counting have done it

        • Starla Hall

          Ahhh what a burn!

    • Starla Hall

      Felix I knoooow!!

  • http://scrutinies.net Dorian Speed

    There’s also the measuring of each of these photos, status updates, blog posts (gulp) as part of an exercise in personal “branding” – choosing which group to share the clever quip with, what moment is the optimal time to post the essay, placement of keywords towards the top.

    I’d also argue that there is value on connecting our experiences to those of others; tethering them down so that they can be revisited and so that the experience of sharing the experience (META!) can further solidify the memory of the initial event.

    I do think about this as I snap photos of my kids with my phone and send them off to various relatives – that I just spent ten minutes framing the scene to capture the impish grin on my toddler’s face just so in order for my mom to best experience it 1,000 miles away via her computer screen.

    Anyway, as usual – great post. +1 Like Retweet.

  • Chris Edwards18

    Maybe it’s my age, but I don’t get the whole Facebook thing. Every post sounds like blather and it appears to be nothing more than legal but covert stalking going on. Not to mention the frustration of how they change the format/rules/dashboard every time you log in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/travisboudreaux Travis Boudreaux

    I think it is all to often easy for us to blame the technology as the cause, and not the philosophies that have led us to where we are.

    No one that I know blames the Printing Press for the spread of the Protestant Heresies. Rightfully so they blame the heretics, yet it’s altogether reasonable to conclude that without the printing press, they may not have become so virulent and developed enough inertia to have the impact that unfolded.

    I think the real question is, “If the most important thing in my life is to become a saint, then what role does social media play in this?”

    I don’t think there’s a one size fits all to this question either. Someone being called to a cloister of to live as a hermit would of course renounce the use of Facebook, but someone like St. Paul or Archbishop Sheen would certainly incorporate this into there missionary zeal.

    I would assume though St. Paul would not have stopped in the middle of dialogue with a Greek to snap a picture of himself in front of the temple of the Unknown God. It is however likely though that he may have sent a text message with a picture of the temple to Peter, saying “Greece is ripe for conversion. Send more brothers in Christ here to preach the good news so that we may tell these people we know of the unknown God, and he is greater than any could ever imagine”.

    It is not altogether in the use of the technology itself that we change, but in the use of that technology more likely a revelation of what is truly most important in our hearts.

  • Mguras

    FB is the idots from hell…they say that FB can fix alot of shit…ok…but make it so i can log in whitout u fuckers whatch what i di,,,BAN fb..I DO

  • http://www.accountingpapers.net/corporate-greed-essay.html greed essay

    Everything is correct. Totally agree with your opinion.

  • Bert

    Stopped reading at “God”. I don’t like to waste my time reading stories by delusional people.

    • Starla Hall

      Bert hypocrite, your delusional. Your a freak for not being able to even read anything about God! I’ll jst understand that you hate God. You’ll be dealt with by GOD. If you discourage hurting ppl tht God is soo wrong, thn you are evil and close mided. I don’t like immaturity about God cause He saves me daily. That is my Dad your talking about.

  • Madness

    Zuckerberg is the Devil, but religion is also a devil that stops you from thinking for yourself…both are equally evil!