This week I quit using Facebook. For a number of years I’ve used it as a platform for spreading information I thought was worthwhile: mostly around nonviolence, Afghanistan, and Christian discipleship. But for some time I’ve had some questions about the effect it’s having (not new thoughts, questions long posed by many others), and decided it was time to finish.
This was my last status update:
So, I promised myself that when I finished at Urban Seed I would also be finished with Facebook…so, so long and thanks for all the memories. If you want to get in contact with me, you can email me or get my snail mail address or phone number so we can write or talk to each other. Better yet, come hang out with me at GraceTree Community. I’ll leave this account active, and might check in occasionally, but for the most part this won’t be a reliable way to get in contact with me anymore. I hope that over the years I might’ve contributed something to your life through this medium, and I hope that I’ll see you again in real life.
My friend Marcus then emailed asking a series of questions:
Why the connection with leaving Urban Seed? is this about stage of life/work change?. The best stuff u offer seems quite distinct from your urban seed focus. Your posts are good share material from your unique mix of nonviolence research, networks and circles that many of us don’t access easily. This makes you an important leader in this movement. Are you continuing with this work and if so why not share it in this way? Is this a theological response to disembodied digital connections, a response to ‘clictiv/slacktiv-ism’ or are you just sick of the haters and people posting cat pictures? will u even be reading this??? 😉
I thought it was worth giving a significant response to those questions, so emailed the following back to him. I then thought it might be worth sharing more widely, so am posting it here in case other folks are interested.
Hey Marx…hehe…how long you got?!
The Urban Seed connection was just that I was doing social media for Urban Seed, so until I finished there I couldn’t exactly stop using FB completely…so yeah, nothing to do with the focus, it’s just something I’ve been wanting to do for ages and finishing at the Seed seemed like a good moment. To be honest it’s a relief. When it begins to feel like a burden and is liberating to stop…that’s a pretty good indication right there that something’s been wrong.
It is in the context of my making lots of significant changes in terms of where I put my energy/time etc at the moment. Finding myself drawn towards prayer and solitude and away from technology. I spend way too much of my life with a screen in front of me. I keep coming back to Thomas Merton, who had more impact on people as a hermit than he ever would have otherwise. His impact wasn’t despite being a hermit, but precisely because of the life of prayer and contemplation that he drew from.
This societal dependence on one piece of technology – particularly one controlled by a large corporation – seems to me to be hugely problematic. I realised that if I’m not on FB, there’s a lot of events I wouldn’t even know about. How is it that we’ve allowed this one website to mediate our lives in such a way? What does it mean when the new ‘marginalised’ means those not on Facebook (and ironically, the “old” marginalised are?!)? What does it mean that we complain about the Coles/Woolworths duopoly or the Labor/Liberal two-party system but not about the monopoly of Facebook for mediating social relationships? Is there life after (or outside of) Facebook? (I suspect there is. :))
Another factor (more an annoyance than anything) was the constant changes…you just get used to one way of doing things and they change again. Plus erosion of privacy, boundaries, etc. I don’t like that one corporation has that much information on me. Not because I’m ashamed of any of it, just because I don’t know who they are and they don’t know who I am. That’s stuff that used to be the domain of human memory, mediated through relationship, shared experience, friendship, fondness, etc. Now it’s marketed as a commodity.
What does it mean that a website can store and own your whole history (admittedly whatever history you put on there, but the barriers to sharing are being constantly eroded)? At the very least I want to stop and think about that kind of thing, and that requires some distance.
Technology itself is to an extent, I’m coming to realise, dehumanising in and of itself – an attempt to escape our human limits and vulnerabilities. I’ve had a growing realisation the more I do NVDA that technology most often (perhaps not always) obscures the human factor that is transformative. The more technology, the more problematic. Partly because it’s bound to fail, so dependence on it is a bit silly. But also because it distracts people from the purity of will, bodies, intention. That’s where the power of nonviolent action is – in vulnerability. I think that’s also where life is most potent.
Another factor was the links/posts themselves – we have more information than ever but I wonder if we are more informed? To what extent is information inward formation (and for better or worse)? Do we give information enough time to do its inward formation work on us or is it just washing over us because of the sheer volume? Or do we listen only to that which reinforces our existing beliefs? What does the constant stream of ‘stuff’ – much of it minutiae – do to us? Some days I find myself anxious about the sheer amount of stuff I want to read online, and simply don’t have the time to. That can’t be good. John Dear has been telling me for years: don’t read the paper. Read the saints. I’ve tried that at times, but always come back to the paper. I’m a slow learner. (I also keep coming back to the saints. :))
So I guess you could say I didn’t so much get sick of the haters and cat pictures as the noise – the sound of my own voice as much as others’.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a place for being informed – and I’m of the kind of temperament that I don’t think I’ll ever act without being well informed, but I think the kind of volume churning through there is excessive. It’s easier to stop than it is to slow down.
And yeah, the disembodied/slacktivism aspect is a factor. Mostly FB didn’t seem to me to be translating into action in others – and where it was translating into action for people, Facebook wasn’t the crucial factor (thank God – if it ever became the crucial factor that would be even more problematic). And yes, that is a big part of the point of posting those links. Jesus doesn’t just want to change your opinions, he wants all of you. I’m not convinced that FB can facilitate that process. I suspect the medium breeds expression of opinion rather than action.
To be perfectly honest I also didn’t think anyone much was listening anymore…with a combination of FB virality algorithms you never know who is seeing what, and it seems like those who interact and therefore see your posts are those who agree anyway. Felt like preaching to the converted.
As I say it’s been coming for a while so although it seems to have been a surprise for a lot of people it wasn’t a split second decision…To be honest I was trying to make as little a deal of it as possible! I was going to write a blog post about all the reasons, but it just felt weird writing a whole bunch of longwinded justifications (like I’m doing here!) for not using a website anymore! I do seem to have underestimated the value people place on my role there though, which has taken me by surprise. At the same time, some people’s reaction to it disturbs me a little as well – almost more like I’ve died than just stopped using a website. I’m still alive, and still the same person. If people want to contact me, they can. In fact, I’d be delighted.
The other thing I’ve struggled with is the public nature of the medium. What does it mean to not let your left hand know what the right is doing when every meal or coffee you consume, every event in your day, is instagrammed for public display? What does it mean for nuance and independent thought when every political opinion is plastered over a meme and ‘shared’ 46,000 times? What are the lines between information sharing, boasting, and straight out propaganda? Where’s the line between “letting your light shine before others” and not “practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them”? I’m not sure I know anymore. Does anyone even care?
Finally, it’s the question of whose desires ‘run’ me…I’m glad my posts have been valued, but I don’t think I should allow others’ desires to run mine. There’s only one Other whose desires I want to run me, and if I spend more time listening to the louder voices instead of the still small one I’m going to have a hard time being ‘run’ by the latter.
It’s given me a small profile, that I confess I wonder if I’m ‘wasting’ by getting out completely…but then I think about the Holy Transfiguration community, and their choice to live in obscurity, and I feel drawn to that kind of integrity, that kind of kenosis, that emptying of ego. In the end I ask myself: “Is there anything worth having that I’m giving up by quitting Facebook?” And I honestly can’t think of enough to justify staying, or that I couldn’t do better in other ways.
My hope is that, whatever leadership I offer in terms of this movement (as you put it), it can be done better off Facebook than on…through real face to face relationships where conversations and mutual aid can take place. It’s less “efficient” in terms of reaching fewer people in a smaller geographical area, but then a) efficiency is not a gospel concept and b) perhaps a more significant impact on fewer people is not such a bad tradeoff. But of course, I don’t need to tell you about the value of small and local. 🙂 So yes, I’m intending not just to continue in this work but to do so more slowly, more deliberately. Maybe less effectively, maybe more – I don’t know, but at least more humanly.
And I guess insofar add I have any leadership role to offer it’s not because of Facebook but because of what I have offered and will continue to offer in terms of a life of faithful discipleship. That will remain accessible, just the bar for access is slightly higher (not necessarily a bad thing).
All of which sounds horribly preachy. But then what can I say: I’m a preacher.
It may end up being a hiatus. Time will tell.