He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Friday, August 27, 2010 

Facebook Fail: Interesting Perspective from a Missionary

For the record, being on the mission field gave me this perspective on facebook - I wholeheartedly agree with this:

A few weeks ago I realised it had been a long time since hearing from one of my best friends back in the States, so I dropped an email to check in, asking to chat sometime. I hadn’t heard back so the other day I rang and left a message: let’s chat when you have a moment. Finally I got a quick email back that said: “Been busy, got lots update you on, but I’ve been keeping up with you on Facebook. Glad to see you got to go to that wedding…” and so followed a list of what I’ve been doing the last few months. That’s nice, except for one thing.

I’m not on Facebook.

I’ve never signed in, uploaded photos, or reported my life on it. But other people are on Facebook, including My Other Half, which is where my friend got the info.

When I was at the aforementioned wedding, I was catching up with several friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I listened with interest to their latest stories and escapades, and then it came my turn to share my latest news. As I started to say each one, I was met with a quick cut-off, “Yeah, I saw that/read about it on Facebook,” indicating that they clearly did not want to hear deeper nuance or further details. And then there was nothing for me to say. Each conversation fell dead in the water when it came to my life.

I have purposely kept off Facebook so I could have real conversations with real people, especially those here in my field. And, despite not wanting to be fooled “into thinking we are both showing and seeing [reality]” , here Facebook was, taking away the last bastion of interaction. For any human, this is hard, but for a missionary long in the field, this is tragic.

Much has been said about whether missionaries should use Facebook (or Twitter, or whatever variety of social media). I’ve mentioned it, my mention has been mentioned, and others have mentioned it in regards to Christians in general. Far from a luddite and ever the Techno-Geek, I seriously pondered years ago whether I should be on Facebook. Personally, I didn’t want to share loads of info online (I think of it as Reverse Stalking, i.e. you provide all the details a stalker would be interested in) and would rather have one-to-one contact with people. I mean, I have a US phone number that rings here, Skype, a phone and a cell phone. There’s several ways, mostly free, to have a real-time conversation, an interaction with me if you’re not available in person.

Meanwhile, for our missionary support, My Other Half diligently keeps up the Facebook account, and I can report that it has helped keep our support and supporters informed better than our e-newsletter, blog, and print newsletter, all of which I keep going.

With parts of my life being broadcast, I’m beginning to understand how the celebrity feels when a third-party magazine starts publishing their trivial details. These friends think they know me from a few bits of information or a photo. The irony is that none of my friends, family or acquaintances know I write this blog.

If you’re on Facebook, that’s your call. Seriously. If it’s not become a god to you and is truly enhancing your relationships, by all means keep going. For me, perhaps it’s being in a relational field for so long, but I’d rather the personal touch, even if it means I don’t have 500 “friends” or don’t know that a classmate from the Third Grade is trying to decide on tacos or burritos for lunch.

So, even with some possible benefits, why don’t I want to post things on Facebook?

There are some things that are too long or detailed to post.
I’m told by My Other Half that most of social media is about pithy, short posts or updating the world about your mood at the moment. But how do I communicate some of the nuances of mission life here in 140 characters or less? (Yes, I know that’s Twitter, but you get my point) I get the feeling that all anyone wants to hear about when I have a face-to-face interaction with them is that I’m “doing fine” and things are “going well”; anything else takes too long and they have no attention span for that.

There are some things that can’t be said to a general audience.
No one really reports everything. If they did, then the church planter (who was also a prolific Twitterer) who was caught in the middle of long-term infidelity would have been tweeting about meeting the mistress. But he didn’t. Just because someone appears to tweet, report, etc. about loads in their life doesn’t mean that you’re getting the full picture, nor does it mean you “know” them. You only know “about” them, and isn’t that the same as reading those celebrity gossip magazines?

There are some things that shouldn’t be said to a general audience.
Reporting on things like bathroom breaks or regular, day-to-day stuff is just trivia and trivial. Not only do I not want to know these things about other people, I fear that announcing such things about oneself in a public format fosters narcissism and an unhealthy expectation of drawing public attention to common actions. It’s not amazing that you took out your trash today. Most everyone has to do this. I just don’t want to lose brain cells retaining that kind of knowledge that’s really nothing. I’d rather personally find out how you’re honestly doing than publicly know what you’re doing.

There are some things best shared in person (or at least in real-time communication).
Written communication has its limitations. Why do we have to literally indicate sarcasm in a written piece, when most people can pick up on the spoken tone? When you ask someone a question, the hesitation before the answer or the strain in the voice may indicate that they want to speak more and are trying to find the strength to do so. You can’t tell that in a text response. And we’re created with multiple senses for a reason. As I said before, for now, there is no substitute to physically being in the same moment, such as sharing a laugh in a coffee house or sitting in a park, experiencing the situation’s assault on your senses. At least with a phone call or video chat, you’ve engaged the sound as well as the sight.

I can report that my friend finally did call me back, and we were able to chat, catching up on so much of each other’s lives. I was able to discuss personal details that are just not public fodder, and I now know better how to pray for my friend, who uses Facebook to keep up on others’ lives but doesn’t update their Facebook page at all. Personal interaction may be dying a slow death, but I’m still not going on Facebook. There’s just something about hearing your friend’s voice and having a heart-to-heart conversation that can’t be replicated by technology.

- C. Holland

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  • From Exiled
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