12.10.12

What’s wrong with Facebook, and what you can do to fix it! Hint: “Share” isn’t Care or Prayer

Facebook Posts Fall into One of Six Categories:
1. Look at / listen to what positive (good, funny, noble) thing I (or my friend, spouse, child, etc.) did.
2. Look at/ listen to what negative (stupid, foolish, idiotic, crazy) think I (or my friend, spouse, child, enemy, governmental official) did.
3. Look at what (team, politician, platform, party, book, movie, television, etc.) I like / don’t like, or what I just did (grew, painted, wrote, bought, sold, won, played, watched, etc.)
4. Read an article that I agree or disagree.
5. View a picture of something I think is (cool, foolish, unbelievable, crazy, nonsense) of myself (or my friend, spouse, child, politician, team, book, movie, etc.)
6. I’m funny and witty, and I’ll prove it.
7. Random hijacks by kids who think bathroom talk is funny! (This one is really an extension of number six).
 
Why Facebook is Making Us Stupid
Do you have to ask? You just spent 20 minutes mindlessly viewing cartoons of Coffee with Jesus between movie trailers for Batman, The Hobbit, and End of Watch, while reading about all the exercise your friends got while playing with their children, repainting their houses, writing books, watching movies traveling #withhappypicturefacesfromeveryangleandexoticplaces! (Seriously: Joe Biden in the VP Debates last night wasn’t that happy. Nobody is!) You just subjected yourself to the entertainment equivalent of skimming one paragraph from the pages of twenty different books and pretending you learned something!
 
Too Harsh Reality?
“Come on,” some will say, “My friends want to know what’s up with me and my kids and my #breakfastlunchdinnermenu items.” Really? How do you know? Unless your friends “like” something or, on occasion comment, there’s no way to tell whether you’re at the top of their wall or blacklisted from it. I get that some people view it like journaling, only in a pathetic way. When somebody journals, the assumption is they want to know themselves better apart from the public eye. When someone posts a status update, they want to be the public eye.
 
Information is Trivial by Nature
Wikipedia gives a better definition of “information” than Dictionary.com does: “Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message.” Binary is information, Fortran, HTML, C++., and Facebook posts. (The only difference is that FB posts won’t make your computer do something cool.) Information is trivial by nature to the extent that information does not require action. Information: It is raining. Action: Maybe I’ll get an umbrella (and then maybe I won’t). Information: The stock market is up. Action: Maybe I’ll invest (and maybe I won’t). The word trivial comes from the Latin triviālis meaning “of the street corner.” Facebook is “of the street corner.”
 
Not just Facebook. But news sites, like CNN: reporting this week Olivia Wilde’s first marriage in utterly inappropriate terms, right next to the “We Were Soldiers” hero who died at 92, both of which were billboarded by Jerry Sandusky’s response to his 30-60 year imprisonment (He and his wife responded by saying “the boys he sexually assaulted” were “ungrateful…liars.”
 
Facebook feeds this. Why are all notifications in the brightest color of red possible, prominently placed (for western readers) at the top left corner of the page. Notice the placement of status related notices in this Chinese version of Facebook: top right corner. Facebook knows we vainly want to know who likes our triviālis.
 
Knowledge is Actionable
But you can do something about it! Start by asking, “Who am I posting this for, and why?” If you are really posting for yourself, a bookmark, a reminder, a journal entry, just make it private. If you are actually posting for others, go beyond the habit of informing and be bold enough to have a call to action. All knowledge has a call to action. A call to action involves an urgency and immediacy, is important, has significant consequences and, depending upon the response, can actually change the results of the outcome. Have we accepted that all we can do is report on life, forgetting our dignity can be used to actually make it better?
 
That’s why “like” is tempting. It invites the expression of opinion in a notified way without any cost or consequence. I can “like” at no cost. “Share” feels good, but it doesn’t require that I actually care. And as a Christian, it doesn’t come near prayer. Calling to action is the belief that what you have to say is not only worth reading, but requires a change in normal and established outcomes of those who may listen.
 
When the Apostle Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things below,” (Col 3:2) I have to think he meant things of value and weight. When Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matt. 6:21), I have to think that meant the treasure of our words, intentions, attitudes, and longings. I want to be known, followed, read, and admired as much as the next person. It’s time for an end to the perpetuation of information. So… 
  • Post a link to a political article: but call us to read it and tell us how it should impact the way we vote or at least think about the electoral process.
  • Share about some injustice: but immediately call us to take one minute to pray for that cause! 
  • Tell me about a product or service: but tell us why we should or should not buy or use it.
  • Advance your political candidate: and invite us to vote for her or him too, because you believe it’s the right thing to do!
  • Tell me about a movie: but tell us how watching it will impact my life, my growth, my maturity, my joy, my encouragement.
  • Tell me about your sports team: but tell us something valuable and worthwhile about them, why they are worthy of imitation, what makes them great. 
  • Even write about your day, your kids, or some random event: but tell us how you are changed by it! If you are unchanged by something, how can you expect it to have a lasting impact on anybody else?
 
 
 
Even Chick Little, ignorant of physics and the nature of trees as she was, believed firmly enough that her experiences required a call to action. Let’s be part of a generation that would rather look stupid for taking a stand than so uncommitted that we never do.
 
Instill values, invite responses, risk offense! But by all means, end the unhelpfulness of the information stream by risking that you find something worthy enough—artistically, biblically, morally, judiciously, economically, environmentally, athletically, fiscally, humorously—to invite, if not also insist upon, an action!
 
I think you should. I believe it’s right.
(ps. That’s my call to action!)

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