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Facebook and the Death of Face Time
As social centres, churches have lost ground to online social networking sites like Facebook.

Remember what life was like without Facebook? More than 35,000 Facebook users are, apparently, finding out. They're part of a growing group of people that publicly pledged to quit the online social networking service, effective May 31, 2010, over privacy concerns.

"…social connection – has been effectively replaced..."

What will fill the hole left by the lack of online community in their Facebook-less lives? If Dr. Richard Beck is correct, maybe they'll start going to church. Beck is a professor and experimental psychologist at Abilene Christian University in Texas, who posits on his blog, "Facebook killed the church."

Noting the statistical relationship between mobile subscriptions and weekly church attendance, Beck observes mobile social computing has freed the Millennial generation from the need for meeting places to affiliate socially. "One of the key attractions of the church in past generations social connection has been effectively replaced," he writes.

If you believe the data, more than just the annual Strawberry Social at the church around the corner is losing out.

Facebook's more than 400 million active users worldwide collectively spend over 500 billion minutes per month on the site. All that time they're investing in poking and gawking and playing games comes at a cost. The price tag could be face-to-face interaction with other people.

According to Statistics Canada, while "Canadian Internet users tend to have large personal networks and frequent interactions with friends and family," they also tend to "spend less time face-to-face with others, and more time online."

Statistics Canada further reports that Internet users who use the web for personal, nonbusiness reasons -- and there were 19.2 million in 2007 "spend less time on traditional social activities, including time with family members and socializing over meals (than non-users)."

Such indicators reflect significant changes in how online Canadians are living out our lives. Technology, it seems, comes with embedded social and spiritual consequences.

Researchers say having a strong sense of community is important to people, and is highly correlated to both physical and mental well-being. So, as Canadians increasingly substitute online socializing for face-to-face interactions, the "Quit Facebook" folks might be on to something; maybe taking a break from Facebook to evaluate its effects on our lives isn't such a bad idea.

Those who make their living in the realm of online technologies seem to concur. "The pace (of change) is getting faster and faster," said Google's former mobile product manager Shyam Sheth, in an interview with Listen Up television, for which I work. "And quite frankly it's scary at times. It can be very scary."

When the folks at Google tell you it's scary, you know it's scary.

"I think technology changes our lives in a lot of subtle ways that we're not really noticing until a few years later when we look back," he said.

So maybe it's time for all those of us who have embraced online social networking to "look back." After all, technology not only "does stuff for us, it does stuff to us," says Trinity Western University's Associate Professor of Philosophy Robert Doede.

"It gives. It takes away. It undoes certain things. And I think before one embraces any technology, one needs to measure the changes it's going to bring about in one's life and ... how it will alter things."

That something as apparently innocuous as Facebook might be altering an entire culture's social and spiritual practices might seem a bit of a stretch to most of us. But not to philosophers like Doede. In an attempt to get his students thinking about the impact of technology on their lives, Doede regularly challenges his Philosophy 210 classes to abstain from all social and traditional media throughout the three-month spring semester and journal about their experiences.

"If we are not extremely careful in how we allow these sites to enter our lives," he cautions, "we will find our capacities to attend to other humans with the care and sensitivity they deserve, subtly yet profoundly diminished."

"The cumulative effects of what Facebook does now will not play out well in the future," warns www.QuitFacebookDay.com, the site where rebels can register their intent to sign off the service.

"We care deeply about the future of the Web as an open, safe and human place. We just can't see Facebook's current direction being aligned with any positive future for the web, so we're leaving."

The dropouts' concern may be "the future of the web," but unless they replace their Facebook habits with another form of web-based social networking, they might discover that the future they change is their own.

Patricia Paddey is a producer with Burlington-based Listen Up Television.

Originally published in The Hamilton Spectator, June 10, 2010.

Used with permission. Copyright © 2010 Christianity.ca.

 

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A ministry of
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada