Whatever happened to the ‘hidden life’?

Will You Be My Facebook Friend?
Social Media and The Gospel
by Tim Chester

Available from 10 of Those

71d9wTi7aPL

‘Over 700 billion minutes are spent each month on Facebook.’

This is just one of the striking statistics with which Tim Chester wakes us up in this short, highly readable 46 page book.  46 pages that any user of social media would do well to re-visit on a regular basis.

The author outlines the problems, dangers and benefits of online activity whether it be tweeting, blogging, flickr-ing, downloading, searching or sharing and ends by penning a handy 12 point guide to using social media that would make a good screensaver.

I first came across the book as a smug non-user of Facebook nodding sagely as I read about the obvious pitfalls of time wasting, declining levels of concentration and ‘selfism’ but then was humbled once I’d opened an account to see how quickly I found myself doing the very thing the apostle Paul urges us not to do: ‘seeking to win the approval of man’ and ‘trying to please men not God’ (Galatians 1:10). Rather than leaving the reader condemned or mistakenly resolute to change his or her ways through will power, Tim Chester gently points us to Christ who ‘more than meets the needs that social media appear to satisfy’.

Some of the warning signs Chester offers include:

  • Do you check your Facebook page more than once or twice a day?
  • Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without technology?
  • Have you ever stayed up beyond your normal bedtime because you were on Facebook or playing online games?

Convicting stuff!

The book insightfully recognises that on Facebook our lives can assume an apparent significance that we may feel they otherwise lack.  We get an audience. Maybe we’ve always craved attention. Quoting an Australian, Stephen Marche, Chester cites how ‘Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behaviour’.

What the book does not do is to promote a more constructive use of social media, for the encouragement of our ‘friends’ or the communication of useful or edifying information to those with whom we’d normally have lost touch.

George Elliot writes at the end of her 1870’s novel ‘Middlemarch’ of how her heroine Dorothea Brooke had an enormous impact upon those around her simply by the way she quietly lived a life of love.  The language is exquisite:

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

In our culture today we have a terror of anonymity and so engage in a constant search for significance. So we put photographs on our Facebook page and think out loud on Twitter for any who might pause to look at our status.

imagesWithin about two days of starting to use Facebook I’d already noticed the onset of ‘Like’ anxiety and had hastily made a crass comment in one of my posts which could have caused offence except for the gracious response of the person who read it. Having thought that it’d be easier to watch my words online I found that the tongue makes just as great boasts through the medium of the written word as it does in every day speech.

So Tim Chester’s book is out on the kitchen surface with the iPhone and the iPad (now broken – will we survive without it?!) just to remind me to focus my energies on the people with whom I’m physically present rather than give scant attention to those online who, let’s face it, can manage perfectly well without my comments.

Advertisements