Book Review

“The Church of Facebook” by Jesse Rice

by Warren E. Berkley

When it first was released, I read this book by Jesse Rice. First, the word “church” is not used in the true Biblical sense. Second, this book is not really an approach to the subject that draws mostly from Scripture.

It is a journey/history of social media, sometime tangled up in academic research and conjecture through applying various physiological and social studies. If you can wade through some of that, there are benefits.

Rice calls upon the reader to carefully consider Facebook and other social media, not just as another communication method. Rather, a “hyper-connection” that could change the way we interact with people in ways that (1) may reveal disturbing things about who we are and (2) may transform us into people who have lost some valuable connections.

With any new technology, the user must apply a discipline whereby the new tool is applied without taking us down a destructive path.

Here are some quotes from the Rice book:

At the root of human existence is our great need for connection: connection with one another, with our own hearts and minds, and with a loving God who intended intimate connection with us from the beginning. Connection is the very core of what makes us human and the very means by which we express our humanity.

Facebook even goes so far as to “suggest” friends for us; we are literally empowered and encouraged to go “friend-hunting,” to simply and easily add to our collection by clicking “add to friend.” And there are many more choices—reconnecting with long-lost friends, connecting informally to those with whom we’d normally have a purely professional relationship (bosses, coworkers, teachers), even starting our own groups and fan clubs. That’s a lot of choices. That’s a lot of control over our social worlds. But are we better off for it?

Stone notes that our habit of continuous partial attention is having a detrimental effect on the quality of our attention. By trying to keep from “missing out” on anything, we become overstimulated and unfulfilled. In addition, Stone says that all of those choices are actually undermining our sense of control and making us feel increasingly powerless. This can happen when we begin to feel at the mercy of our technology—a knee-jerk, out-of-control kind of experience.

Today’s online social networks are congeries of mostly weak ties—no one who lists thousands of friends on MySpace thinks of those people in the same way as he does his flesh-and-blood acquaintances, for example. It is surely no coincidence, then, that the activities social networking sites promote are precisely the ones weak ties foster, like rumor-mongering, gossip, finding people, and tracking the ever-shifting movements of popular culture and fad. (Rice quotes Christine Rosen)

“In effect the hyper-connection of Facebook changes the nature of our relationships by turning our friends into audiences and us into performers.”

Throughout the Rice book, one repeated statement is, “There is a force that is capable of synchronizing a large population in very little time, therefore creating spontaneous order.” You may decide, after reading the book and reflecting on what you have witnessed, that the use of social media through the keyboards of many, is creating spontaneous disorder!

I cannot endorse all that is in the book. In fact, I cannot understand all that is in this book. The academic studies are tedious. But there are some worthwhile sections that will provoke useful thought about our use of social media. It is here. Let’s be disciplined and godly in our use of it.

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