The Jayber and I have been eschewing Facebook for lent this year. Not really, I confess, to focus our minds on our dear Lord in the run up to Easter but because an intervention was required. Neither of us spent vast amounts of time on Facebook but would, several times a day, just check in, click a few links, see what was happening in the sprawling virtual community of our lives, made up of all kinds of odds and ends of people we have collected an association with over the years.
There are dear ones on that Friends list, people who I once shared life and community with and who now live way beyond my doorstep. I love to hear about what their kids had for breakfast because it’s hard not to be there any more to watch their kids grow up and I love getting the feel for their day. Some on the list are people I once knew and am nosy about what they did with their lives, some are there because it would just have been rude to ‘ignore friend request’ and quite a few are people who, while not round the corner still make up the broader community of my life.
But here’s the thing, I am not convinced any of it does me any good. I love community, I was created for it and I am most blessed and at my best when I am in the thick of it. It’s the water I need to grow and flourish. Facebook, for me, is like Community Lite™ with added sweeteners – it slakes my thirst for a while, makes me feel like I am part of a something, like I am engaging with people but doesn’t deeply satisfy my need for friendship and holistic community.
Maybe I’m becoming a grumpy old woman but I am noticing as I get older that my instincts, instead of getting bigger and broader are shrinking when it comes to what it means for me to be in community. It was something I had never thought about until I had depression when, through necessity, the amount of people who I could be in contact with shrank radically. I have become convinced since then that, global village or not, what we are created for is the small and the local. To be present to where we are right now. Which for me usually means the kids hanging off my legs demanding food, the husband across the table making me think, laugh and sometimes cross, the neighbours in the cul-de-sac who I am trying to get the guts up to be more engaged with, the parents at the school gate who I’d like to run past, the people in my church who I love dearly, the town I live in whose joys and sorrows I need to pay more attention to. Being present to my present means getting my hands dirty with the complexities of the people and the place I find myself.
So I was curious to see what would happen when we logged out for an extended period, if my theory would hold up. I’ll let jayber speak for himself but for me life without Facebook has been both harder and better than I expected. I didn’t realise how addicted I was to all those little doses of Community Lite™, how they provided an escape from the dull moments of home-making and child-rearing (it doesn’t surprise me that the biggest group of internet users are housewives). Now maybe it’s co-incidence but with the computer off more and my kids and home having a little more of my focus there is more satisfaction in my days, more appreciation of where I am and what I have.
So here is what I am NOT saying : that facebook is bad, that the internet is the work of satan and that we all should disengage from all people that don’t live within a 5 mile radius.
Come Easter I will in all likelihood log out permanently from Facebook or maybe just reduce my list to 10 or so of those dear ones who live far away and check in once a week. Because I am not saying that living a life that is small and local means no longer investing in those friendships – but does reading a status update every now and then really do justice to an important relationship?
One thing Jayber and I have been talking about is returning to the blog world. We have been remembering the time just before Facebook exploded when a number of friends had blogs and there was great chat and discussion and a real opportunity to be known and heard. Most of us since then have been fairly feeble at blogging (apart from the very prolific Zoomtard) but I wonder if it isn’t a better, deeper way to engage our brains and hearts in virtual friendship. Whatever we do I think the way Jayber and I use the internet needs to become much less of a default activity, forming the backdrop of our family’s life and more like a well loved board game,brought out regularly to be enjoyed and then put back carefully in the box
Jayber may need a little convincing. Might wait til after the Heineken Cup.