It's fashionable, among adults my age and older, to voice your disapproval of Facebook and those who use it. This could be subtle--a little sniff when someone mentions it, for example, or more overt hostility--anything from, "I just don't see the appeal" to the more aggressive, "I just don't understand how anyone has time for that nonsense," to "Why anyone would want to hang around with a bunch of teenagers is beyond me." Usually, the critics and sniffers imply that if you are on Facebook, then you are immature and/or that you waste time and/or that they are vastly superior to you because they have more real work to do than you.
When faced with these sniffers, I usually mutter something like, "Well, I'm only on it to promote my books." And that is the reason I got on it--but I have now become a proud Facebok user. And I
I will acknowledge up front that one can easily spend too much time on Facebook. Like anything else, balance is the key. Facebook can be a problem if one uses it unwisely. It can create strife in families, it can get in the way of attending to responsibilities, and it can damage marriages. All true. The same, however, could be said of television, sports, reading, exercise, housework, yard work, and country music. Probably some other things as well.
I'm not ashamed to say that I like Facebook. I like it partly because I think it has a lot of value. I have seen people get help--from emotional support and prayers to more concrete assistance--with problems they faced. I like the sense of community it builds. I know, for example, how people in my congregation are feeling. I know that their baby is sick or that their washer broke. I know that someone is lonely or sad. I also know that someone is happy and that their child just got a good grade on a test or that a spouse got a job. I get to know my colleagues better as people and, hopefully, can support them more fully in their ups and downs. Often, I hear things through Facebook that I wouldn't otherwise know.
Yes, there is a temptation for the trivial and the shallow and Facebook encourages us to think in short phrases and there's not a lot of nuance. But I would argue that, on the whole, because of Facebook I know more about more people than I would otherwise. Facebook gives a venue for people to share things--minor annoyances to major joys--with a variety of people that they otherwise would not be able to connect with. I think that's great. Facebook provides me with a chance to interact more frequently and deeply with people I know. A trivial example: I've always thought it would be cool to walk through a village square on Christmas Day saying, "Merry Christmas" to everyone I met--you know, like at the end of A Christmas Carol. But I don't have a town square nearby. Well, Facebook provides that sort of virtual town square where I can greet, and be greeted by, friends.
I also think it's great that Facebook provides the chance to interact with people we wouldn't otherwise know. I realized the other day, with some surprise, that there is someone I consider a trusted friend. And I've never met or spoken with this person. But we've interacted over the years via blogs and Facebook. That's kind of cool. We have shared values, and so I have come to know and trust this person's opinion. I never would have met this person otherwise. That's really cool.
This year, with a son at college, his Facebook updates made me feel close to him because I had a sense of what his life was like during the day. I knew he was at work or just passed a test. This made me feel closer, actually, and more authentically replicated the living-with experience than a weekly phone call.
Around Thanksgiving, I heard about a new author who had just lost his day job and health insurance. Word spread via Facebook. Within one day, his book had been purchased so many times that it was ranked on Amazon with the Twilight and Eragon series.
Selfishly, I like Facebook because it gives me a chance to keep track of my former students. These kids occupy a big space in my heart, and it always hurts a bit when they leave and move on--happy though I am for them. My policy is to never send them Friend requests because I think it's creepy for 40 year old men to do that. But I gladly accept the requests they send me (with a parent's permission) and happily hear about their joys and woes. I hope that maybe I provide a bit of support and nudging from time to time as well, although I try not to be too preachy and teacherish.I've invested a lot of time and effort in these kids during an awkward age--and, quite frankly, put up with a lot. It's a joy to be able to interact with them as they mature and become the wonderful young men and women that we hoped they would.
Beyond all of these lofty reasons, I think it's fun. I like people, but I'm very introverted and shy (I know, some of you don't believe that, but it's true. I've just learned to fake being outgoing, but it's very difficult for me). Facebook lets me interact with people to the extent I'm comfortable. If I think of something funny to say--I say it. If I am tired and grumpy, I don't have to say anything. If I want to be encouraging, but don't want to say anything, I can hit "like." If I want to write a heartfelt comment, I can. If I am out of school and have lots of time, I post often and comment on lots of people's updates. If I am in dress rehearsals, I don't.
I hear people lament that we're letting Facebook replace real, face-to-face conversations. Perhaps that's true. And I think that we need to be diligent to make sure that kids who are growing up with it don't only learn to use Facebook (and texting and so on). HOWEVER, and this is big, Facebook does not necessarily replace the normal in-person social interactions I have. I interact with people on Facebook that I wouldn't interact with otherwise. It's not like I'm choosing to Facebook with someone as opposed to going out to dinner with them. The people with whom I socialized pre-Facebook, I still socialize. Facebook has just opened up my ability.
So there. I said it. I'm 40 years old. And I like Facebook. If you don't, that's fine. But don't sniff about it.
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