What Facebook Can’t Do

Facebook has been growing at an explosive clip since it launched in 2004, and the number of users on the site is over 1 billion. Plenty of people have figured out how to use the vast social network in productive, positive ways — but for others it still feels like a challenging, new frontier.   http://legacy.wbur.org/2013/02/20/facebook-perfection             

Craig Malkin, of Harvard Medical School:  “We’re really just in the infancy when it comes to research on Facebook but there are some themes that are emerging.  And one of the clearest themes is when people go on to Facebook they’re often crafting a persona — they’re portraying themselves at their happiest. They’re often choosing events that feel best to them and they’re leaving out other things.”

“This is something that keeps showing up in the research,” Malkin explained. “Some people out there wind up negatively comparing themselves to what’s portrayed on Facebook by their friends.”

We get this.  Who among us hasn’t compared their life to that of a friend who is posting yet another happy photo from their European vacation?  And, who among us has not been tempted to carefully craft our persona?

I recently had a beer with a buddy from the Pacific Northwest where I used to live. He said:  “I’ve enjoyed your Facebook photos from New England.  You seem to be very happy there”.   My response: ‘Well, it’s Facebook’.

He took my point.

In truth sometimes I’m happy and sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes life is going well.  Sometimes not.  How about you?

While some of us do post our pain and struggles on Facebook, most of us don’t.  For the most part I choose not to.  For me Facebook is a way to let friends and family know in general what I’m up to, to comment and sometimes vent about sports, politics, faith and culture.

Facebook does have its place.  Having lived in several parts of the country it allows me to catch glimpses of people I care about but rarely see.  I enjoy seeing photos of their families and seeing their kids grow up.  I like to hear what people are passionate about.  Some postings make me laugh and think.  When an area of  concern or need is posted I can offer a word of support.

But I know ‘it’s just Facebook’.  It’s only a glimpse into another’s life.

I’ve lived for 60 years.  I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  As a pastor I’m invited into the most vulnerable, complicated and joyful moments in life.  I hold such moments to be sacred.

What I’ve learned is this:  ‘No one has their act completely together’.  To varying degrees ‘we are all train wreaks’.  That’s certainly true for me.

This is what it means to be human.  We are a mix of strengths and weakness, light and shadow, wisdom and folly.  Some of us more than others experience love.  Some of us more than others suffer.

Such is the price of being human.  Neither Facebook nor any other social media platform can speak to the complexity of the human experience.   I find this reassuring.

When I use Facebook I know I’m only catching a glimpse of the lives of family and friends.  I know that there is more going on under the surface.  Much that isn’t being said.

Facebook and other social media platforms have their place.  And limits.

How then do we get to know and be known at a deeper, more substantive level?

The answers vary for each of us.  It takes courage to share the stuff we struggle with. Hopefully we each find those we trust to share with.  Those who will hold what we say in confidence and listen with care.

It is freeing and affirming when we choose to share a struggle or an area of shame or a deep wound with someone we trust. Some may entrust this to a therapist to help us find understanding and even healing.

It is a gift to be heard, understood and accepted.

In my Christian tradition this is called grace.  The deep-seated belief that God, whose very essence is love (I John 4: 7 – 12) listens, accepts, forgives and wants the best for us.

Philip Yancey a theologian offers  this about grace: “There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less”.

Perhaps you’re a Christian, perhaps not. But we can each choose to be present to another.  We can choose to be gracious….to listen and hold with care the humanity that another may entrust to us.

Facebook can’t do this.





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