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FIRST-PERSON: Putting a face on Facebook

CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP)–Just over one year ago I went over to the darkside. I joined the club. I entered the 21st century. I became trendy. I went on Facebook.

How I found myself on Facebook is more complicated than actually finding me on Facebook. It’s kind of a long story, a story of cultural rebellion and anti-cool defiance. But, I caved. I caved in to peer pressure and I caved in to convenience. It’s easier to tell someone to look you up on Facebook than it is to give them one of my three different e-mail addresses.

But it’s more than that. I think Facebook might be biblical. After all, John predicts the rise of this Internet giant in his third epistle: “I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink … we will speak face to face” (3 John 13-14).

OK, I am taking some liberties with the text, and I certainly wouldn’t preach this text as a predictive affirmation of the Facebook phenomena. However, John’s desire to see someone face to face does speak to the ever-increasing interest in Facebook as a social networking site.

I’ve been told repeatedly since I became a friend on Facebook, more times than I can remember already, that the whole thing is addictive. I can certainly see how someone could spend untold hours chatting and yukking it up with long lost friends and newly found friends. We do it, as John says, that we might see someone face to face.

Facebook puts a face on the faceless Internet. You can post photos of yourself, your family, your fanaticism. And, as you respond and place your mark on someone’s “wall,” you have a face to put with the “person” with whom you’re “talking,” albeit in short sentences. That’s the attraction, I think. That’s the basis of the addiction. As humans, we long for relationship. Facebook feeds that need.

Biblically speaking, we were created for relationship. Part of the “imago Dei,” the image of God, in man must be the ability and desire for fellowship with others. God in His Trinitarian essence enjoys eternal relationship with the other Persons in the Trinity (see John 17:5 for example). On the human side, Adam without Eve was incomplete (Genesis 2:18). Adam with Eve was made whole and together they made one (Genesis 2:24). A key part of being human, therefore, is communication, the sharing of company with others. Facebook fits the bill for many folks.

For all the good that it does, for the all the fulfillment that it brings, Facebook and social networking websites like it also bring the potential for communal failure. To that end, we must conclude with a few words of caution.

Electronic communication must never be allowed to take the place of John’s face to face conversation. In sensitive matters of affection or rebuke, we must speak face to face. In love, what kind of love is it if we can’t tell those we love what we mean to their face? In rebuke, what kind of spineless jellyfish exercises discipline or correction via the information superhighway? Some things must be done face to face. If they can’t be, they shouldn’t be done at all.

Remember, it is not good for man to be alone. To that end, let Facebook serve its purpose. Use it to keep you in touch over the miles and years. However, don’t let it take the place of face to face conversation. As John says, a letter is good. Being there in person is lightyears better.
Peter Beck serves as an assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C.

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  • Peter Beck