Facebook and Community

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

I love the way that Facebook keeps me connected with old friends who are now far away. In the course of a day, I can interact with friends from high-school, college, grad-school years, my current church community, my past church community, and my husband’s college students. I can ask a practical question, like “What should I do with ground turkey for dinner?” and get 15 completely different, awesome ideas. I can organize a book club with a completely random assortment of women that turn out to have an evening of great conversation together.

I hate the way that Facebook sucks my time, though. Like most electronic devices, it is addicting and simultaneously unsatisfying. If I don’t set limits for myself, I can check facebook twice an hour all day, sometimes spending the entire hour perusing my own or other people’s pictures. What a waste. It encourages my narcissism–when I post a picture, I’m anxious to see how many people have ‘liked’ it. When I post a witty and thought-provoking status (as, of course, all my statuses are), I wait anxiously for comments.

I know that in criticizing facebook, I’m only adding my voice to many others who have already raised concerns about the way that Facebook shortens our attention spans and kills community. But even though I’m only following those who have said this before, I feel a need to say it again, with a special emphasis:

Facebook has a special knack for killing community among stay-at-home moms. As modern technology and culture has allowed communities to spread out and moms to be more isolated, Facebook encourages this isolation.

We women have a need to vent emotional events in our lives. When we have a friend or neighbor to do this with, it builds the relationship with that person. It gives the other person a chance to help you with whatever your crisis-at-the-moment is: you burned dinner? Your friend invites your over for dinner. Your baby spilled paint all over the carpet while you weren’t watching? Your neighbor walks down the street to help bathe the baby and reminds you to take pictures. You really need a break from your kids? Your friend comes and takes them to play for the afternoon. Your teething baby was up all night? An older woman in the church comes and watches your bigger kids for the morning so you can snatch a nap.

But when we post these events to facebook, the outcome is entirely different. Many people comment. They’ll often say kind things, like, “I’m sorry!” or, “I’ll pray for you!” But because so many people are commenting, it reduces the need for any one individual to actually come and help you. It increases the bystander effect, and effectively kills community. You see, we all want community, but most of us want the kind of community that comes to us. When we need help, it is hard to call one person and ask for that help. When you do that, you run the risk of rejection. It’s much easier to post to facebook and hope that somebody, anybody, responds with the help we need. When we see somebody in need on facebook, it’s only too easy to think, “Well, that person has 47 replies, so they don’t need my help. Surely one of those people will help.” But true community requires that we put ourselves out there, both the needy and those who can help.

So, will you make a commitment with me? I’m going to try to call a friend the next time I need help, instead of posting it to facebook. Don’t let the opportunity for real community to pass you by for the allure of virtual community.

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