The great culturally-critical cliche these days has been the claim that Facebook (as well as it’s similar competitor, Twitter) is for self-absorbed narcissists intent only on furthering their personal brand and drawing attention to themselves. This claim is based on some amount of truth: there are those out there who use Facebook for exactly such a purpose, and there are many web sites that enourage people to do as much.
What this claim ignores, however, is that a major part of Facebook has less to do with me and more to do with every one else I have a relationship with. I don’t typically log in to Facebook to read about myself or even update my info several times a day. In fact, the basic interests, etc. in my profile hasn’t been updated in quite a while. Yes, I do update my status a few times every day, and I occasionally take quizzes, but these activities are not narcissistic in nature: they are social.
In other words, Facebook destroys my tendency to focus on myself exclusively and forces me to focus outwardly. While those who claim Facebook is too narcissistic write lengthy theological and ethical tomes for their blogs which happen to be named after themselves, I find myself genuinely interested in people I am “friends” with on Facebook. While I recognize that reading status messages, writing on walls and sharing quiz results does not equal a relationship, I do believe that they can aid one. Recently a status message on Facebook indicated that a friend of mine was having a hard time, which tipped me off that maybe I should call him. We had a really good talk and the friendship is better for it.
What could I have done better with my time? Read more Bible? Studied more theology? Browse more blogs? The one thing all of these have in common is that they’re passive and unsocial, and while they are all incredibly good things, they can in and of themselves become narcissistic activities. The human condition is like this. We are prideful people who would often prefer to spend all of our time by ourselves, doing “good” things on our own and for ourselves while our friends and family are hurting and in need.
I find all of this exponentially valuable in that it encourages me to reconsider how I think about various people in my life. Facebook’s relentless insistance that each and every person you add on Facebook is your “friend” drives home a reality that is not realized enough in our compartmentalized society: that every relationship you have is crucial. Every person you speak to has incredible joys and unspeakable sadnesses.
Before Facebook, we could escape from the lives of others, while others were blissfully unaware of our own lives. Some may view this as a good thing. Some may find the lives of others monotonous, superfluous, or uncomfortable. Me, I call it real life, and it’s the sort of thing I think is worth devoting time to.