Further Thoughts on Facebook

by Andrew Forrest

I wrote a post last week suggesting that, in its quest to capture our attention, it’s almost as if Facebook wants our worship. I meant the post to be provocative, and at least for me, it was: the post has provoked some further thoughts, which I share below.

My Name is Andrew and I’m a User

I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account, I use YouTube, and I carry around an iPhone that enables me to be connected whenever I want. It’s precisely because I’m a user that I’m concerned about what Cal Newport calls “Internet tools” (search engines, social media sites, online encyclopedias, etc.): I see their effects on my own life. It is because I’ve seen what these tools are doing to me that I’m calling into question our naive and uncritical adoption of Internet tools.

Facebook Is Shorthand

For me, Facebook functions as shorthand for all the other Internet tools. I don’t have anything against Facebook?per se.

Social Media Is Different Than Television

One commenter wondered if I should have included television in my critique. I don’t think television and Facebook are apples to apples, for several reasons:

  • Television goes in one direction only: I receive it. Facebook, on the other hand, allows me to transmit messages to the world, and the very act of transmitting those messages in that medium promotes narcissism: it’s all about me.
  • Television isn’t one‘thing, but a grouping of many things: networks, advertisements, writers, actors, etc. Facebook is a for-profit monolith. It’s ubiquity and power make it more dangerous than old media.

Social Media?Promotes Narcissism

The very nature of the social media promotes narcissism, because they encourage me to make everything about me: my updates, my likes, my reactions.

Social Media Isolates

For all the talk about connectivity, I find that social media and the other Internet tools are more likely to isolate than connect us together. The more time we spend looking down at our blinking smart phones, the less able we are to cultivate presence and mindfulness.

Social Media is the Enemy of Patience

Everything about Internet tools is about immediacy: immediate reactions, thoughts, and gratification of desires. If I want something, I buy it on Amazon; if I have an opinion about a current event, I share it to the world. This immediacy keeps us from developing the virtue of patience, and patience matters because the important things in life require that we wait.

Social Media Trains Me to Need Constant Stimulation

It is shameful how often I find myself in a line somewhere, only to pull out my iPhone. The way Internet tools have trained us to need constant stimulation is what scares me the most about these tools.

Social Media is the Message

If the medium is the message, then it’s not the content of the various social media platforms that ought to worry us, but the very nature of these platforms themselves. In other others, it could be the case that even if we eschew all the destructive and evil things on the Internet (pornography, terrorist death videos, etc.), these tools might still warp our minds and twist our wills.

At least, that’s what I’ve started to worry about.



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Melvin Baker June 13, 2016 - 6:13 am

I totally agree with you.

Peter June 13, 2016 - 6:51 am

Andrew: great, thought-provoking blog. You need to checkout Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked” (https://www.hubworthy.com/hubworthy/peter-hegi/hooked-how-to-build-habit-forming-products). In it, Nir talks about the responsibility that entrepreneurs have as they design habit-forming products. Check out Nir’s commentary on The Bible App, and how this app is having a positive impact by creating regular/habitual Bible readers.

Zac O June 13, 2016 - 8:05 am

I decided to take a brief hiatus from social media about a week and a half ago. Though I don’t necessarily consider myself to be an avid user of any of the platforms (I rarely post), quitting cold turkey has been hard. I’ve also been amazed by how much free time I suddenly have. I guess I didn’t realize how often I opened the applications to check out everyone’s status. I agree Andrew, the immediate need for constant and immediate stimulation from these sites is extremely addictive. While social media can be a very useful tool, personally , I fear its long term effects. Great post.

Andrew Forrest June 13, 2016 - 9:02 am

I keep thinking that I need to totally delete my Facebook account, but I use it for learning names. Still, I might need to just delete it anyway.

Heika June 13, 2016 - 5:43 pm

Maybe I’m an addict trying to justify my addiction. But, can’t Facebook be more? I rarely post about myself. Unless you count posting about my kids posting about myself… I mostly use it to keep up with family I would never see otherwise. Isn’t there a healthy use? Or is it all addiction or not?

Andrew Forrest June 13, 2016 - 7:59 pm

I don’t know–I just see what all these Internet tools are doing to me, and I’m concerned. –AF

Rodney Adams June 14, 2016 - 9:47 am

A few scattered thoughts:

-My friend Kirsten commented in an earlier post that it is not Facebook/the internet with the problem, but irresponsibility of the users. I tend to agree with her, but that only tells part of the story. Implements of technology may require human touch to be used for good or evil, but in isolation they still have their own ethics. While a gun can only do harm if in the hands of a user, its sole reason for existence is to kill or maim. Therefore its existence should be taken seriously. A gun sitting on the counter untouched is not the same as a popsicle. Likewise, if the love of money is the root of all evil, then money itself is something to be aware of and taken seriously. Hardly anything on earth provides as good a window into our soul than how we respond to the availability money. It is not enough to put all responsibility on the user of these technologies while ignoring the individual ethic of the implements themselves.

-I also like Cal Newport’s explanation of the “any benefit” mindset. If something provides any benefit at all, then we fully accept that it is good for our lives. Sure the internet and social media can provide some benefit to us, but are we giving the associated negatives enough credit and then deciding whether we receive a NET benefit from them?

-If anything, social media is a mirror through which we can view ourselves as a society. The content is less important.

Andrew Forrest June 16, 2016 - 5:09 pm

Totally agree. Well said.

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