Why I’m taking a (indefinite) sabbatical from Facebook

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I recently decided to forgo my socially networked identity and deactivated my Facebook account. I know, I know; social suicide, right? At least, perhaps, internet-related social suicide. And just writing that sentence makes me wonder about the seemingly obvious paradox found within it. Is there really a society, a community, a true list of friends found on Facebook? Is social connectedness found solely within a list of hundreds of people, some whom are actual friends, others not so much, posting snarky snippets in “status updates”? Or are pictures of people enjoying life chosen to represent the best side of life, faces and figures, reality? (Remember the days when nobody really knew what the internet itself was and we lived in a much smaller world? If not, check out this video from the Today Show in 1994.)

Awhile ago I read this post by one of my favorite authors/thinkers James K.A. Smith. In it he describes his reasons for leaving his Facebook reality and identity behind. He talks about it in regards to his formation and the effects FB was having on him. What he says really does resonate with me and my faults. I, too, have a very addictive personality and have found myself spending WAY too much time on FB. The ease of the accessibility into the lives of people added to the massive wave of information that we all find ourselves swimming in everyday makes it difficult to keep afloat. Sometimes life passes us by without our noticing it.

This is a factor that pervades nearly ever facet of our culture and thereby our lives as well. Step back and think of all the free-floating information that comes across our paths everyday. Television, magazines, Facebook, blogs, phone apps, and a plethora of other media drown us with pummeling waves. The moment we wake up we are engulfed by these things, but only if we let them. There’s a saying, “We make our tools and then our tools make us.” How true is this? Part of my fear is the connection between media oversaturation, which leads to an insatiable appetite for more, and then in turn leads to an apathy towards it all.

Can this happen in regards to people? Could Facebook lead to an unconscious determination to search out and find out things about people and yet miss the people themselves? Are we turning people into mere information containers through our never-ending voyeurism into their lives via images, status updates, and other digital means? I don’t know. All I know is that Facebook definitely has an agenda, whether it recognizes it or not, and if I’m not careful, I could allow it to continually put me on a trajectory that I may wake up too late to.

Facebook isn’t inherently evil. It is not of the devil. It is a tool to be employed for connection and networking, by which it does do a great deal of good. I will certainly miss the ease of writing a few things, sending a few things, or looking up a few things in an attempt to set up a meeting or further a conversation. So much so, that I’m not saying I won’t ever be back. Actually, by the time I decide to or not I may be too late. Check out this article discussing the possible downward trend in FB.

Basically, I don’t want to miss out on my real life because of my FB life. I don’t want to miss out on real connections with people in lieu of the surreal connections FB offers. Most of all, I want to be aware of the person FB, along with every other factor in my life, is turning me into. All of our habits are formational. The question is to what end are they forming us?

These are just some thoughts of mine and the actions I have taken because of them. If these resonate with you, let me know. If not, why not? Do I have a blind spot? Let me know.

UPDATE: Since posting this I came across this article on the Pope’s letter concerning social media, communication, and Christians. Check it out.

4 thoughts on “Why I’m taking a (indefinite) sabbatical from Facebook

  1. I appreciate your reflection here Scott. I’ve often thought about leaving FB. Other have too. (I think there was a Mark Sayers post several months back about folks in the news leaving FB.)

    I personally feel a little stuck with it…most college students I work with FB message rather than email. But when I go on to reply to messages, it’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll have an unscheduled 15+ minute detour into status updates and the like.

    I’m also concerned about the cultural ramifications. I wonder if the folks at culturemaking.com have played with it yet.

    At the same time, I wonder some of the same questions about blogging. I know lots of folks have already commented that “missional church planters” often spend time blogging that they could be spending with people and on mission. I struggle with this because I want to spend more time blogging in order to connect with folks, but don’t usually have the time….but connecting online with like-minded people is perhaps the gift (or curse?) of blogging.

    Have you seen Skye Jethani’s reflections about Twitter? http://www.outofur.com/archives/2010/12/my_30_day_twitt_1.html . Thought it was a helpful post.

    So maybe a question is What do you feel is the difference between blogging and FB culturally and personally?

  2. Yo Luke: Great questions and thoughts. I don’t know if I have any concrete ideas differentiating between blogging and FB. I think I am too much a newbie in the blogging world to see a lot of the implications of it, both personally and culturally. Regardless, here are some of my thoughts.
    Blogging seems to be a means to get fuller, deeper thoughts out there whereas FB is more short, incongruent thoughts. FB is a good way of directing people towards different things (links), including one’s own blog. Blogging doesn’t seem to be as voyeuristic, although it is in regards to information via text and sometimes images/audio. In my opinion, the tediousness blogging requires forms me, and others, in my thoughts because I process when I write. So personally, it aids me in my thoughts and hopefully it engages people’s thoughts and leads to some different action.
    Culturally, I think blogging, like anything else, can have both bad and good consequences. If narcissism lingers beneath someone’s blogging, perhaps the act of blogging merely reinforces their narcissism. But I think most of the blogs I frequent, which are mainly church planting/theological blogs, aren’t geared that way. Their main objective is to aid and further conversation related to their topics, which is a good thing.
    Overall, I hear you in the struggle between doing/belonging to or not doing/not belonging to FB or the blogosphere. It’s a difficult thing when many people you connect with or want to challenge find their resources via FB or blogging. I guess in the end, it’s all in the way you use them and for what purpose.
    Thoughts?

  3. @John: I’ve actually gone back to Facebook, but now I try to use it (mostly) as a platform for connections and getting ideas out there. I’m much more careful with my time and energy, especially now that we have 2 kids. Maybe someday I’ll sign up for Twitter. Thanks for the comment.

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