When I studied for a year at the Institute for Christian Studies, one of my assigned readings was The Fall of Interpretation by James K.A. Smith. I remember really enjoying Smith’s perspective as well as his writing style, and I ‘ve followed his rise to his current positions of Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College and Executive Director, Society of Christian Philosophers. His latest book Desiring the Kingdom is on my to-read list and was recently awarded The Word Guild Award in Leadership/Theoretical, as well the Christianity Today 2010 Book Award in Theology/Ethics.
I happened upon a recent blog of his entitled “Farewell to Facebook,” where Smith provides a brief overview of why he has decided to delete his Facebook account after only a few months. He writes:
There are multiple factors in this decision. For instance, I finally joined Facebook to stay connected with my son who left for college. But now everything I know about him through Facebook I wish I didn’t! I also find that Facebook has taken away from what blogging I did–and I think blogging is a much better exercise for a writer than dashing off status updates.
Later he candidly admits:
Facebook plays into all of my vices: my pride and arrogance, my self-centeredness, my penchant for vainglory. Most of all, Facebook feeds and fuels my addictive personality, especially when it comes to communication.
Email, as you can imagine, took this to ridiculous new levels, precisely because email can arrive 24 hours a day. You can guess what this does to someone who’s already addictively fixated on snail mail that arrives just once a day. Facebook, of course, just added another layer of fixation on such “connection,” while also creating a quick and easy outlet for expression that is always a veiled cry for attention.
And closes his post with the following:
What’s at issue here is precisely the fact that Facebook is an environment of practice which inculcates in us certain habits which then shape our orientation to the world–indeed, they make our worlds. So, in the spirit of Desiring the Kingdom, I started to take a “practices audit” of my Facebook patterns. The results weren’t pretty.
While I certainly can appreciate several of Smith’s concerns (namely the issues of pride and addictive patterns being amplified through Facebook), I tend to see moves like his to be overreactions. Sure, deleting Facebook is probably a valid exercise for some people, but there’s are many reasons why social networks are so popular, and those reasons extend beyond the immediacy of communication or the ability to share “veiled cries for attention” (a comment of Smith’s that I felt was a bit telling).
Facebook, like any social network, comes with all sorts of challenges and opportunities. The potential for abuse and misuse is enormous, but in what area of life is this not the case? I don’t think Facebook challenges us with anything new. At their heart social networks disclose our longing to “not be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and often reveal creative ways of connecting that are real and legitimate, although different from face-to-face communication.
I’m a deeply vain person myself, so I appreciated Smith’s candor at this point. I’d love it if others liked, respected, and admired me. Facebook does provide a vehicle through which I can self-promote and self-proclaim to help achieve those ends. But over time–and because I’ve stuck with it–I’ve learned to confront those demons that Facebook initially spurned in me. Was Facebook the problem? Hardly. Facebook simply amplified what was already inside: pride and vanity. I imagine that had I, out of righteous intentions, deleted my Facebook account when I became aware of it’s pull on these areas, my heart would have found a way to celebrate the fact that I was “above” people who used Facebook to prop up their self-esteem, pride, and ego. I would have found a way to see my deletion of Facebook as evidence of being spiritually elite.
And that’s why I stick with it. Not because the temptations aren’t there, but because we need Christians who are willing to think deeply and Christianly about social networks while participating in them. The Facebook’s of the world aren’t going away, and I’m not a fan of the “this could be troublesome, so let’s jump ship” mode of Christian “engagement” with culture.
Kudos to James K.A. Smith if he honestly believes his life and discipleship practice is enhanced by walking away from Facebook. Personally, I wish he would have decided differently, because his voice is a desperately needed one that could be deep vision and wisdom to those of us desiring the kingdom in this sphere of life.