The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Facebook On My Mind

Most people evaluate technology by its results. From this standpoint, the Internet is both good and badgood because it helps people donate funds to help tornado victims in Moore, Oklahoma, bad because it helps people download a 3D gun that they can print in their garage. But "results" is the surface-level evaluation of technology. At this level, people say, “Technology is neither good nor bad; it’s all about how you use it.” But there are other levels at which to evaluate a given technology.  

Another level to consider is to look at the skills needed for using a given technology. Just like a basketball player needs good dribbling skills, an Internet user needs what? What habits do you need to be “tech-savvy”? 

The Internet was made for connecting people. It began with email and chat groups, and it continues with Facebook and Twitter. But if the Internet was made for connecting people, the question is, why do we need it? Don’t we connect with people already? 

The answer is that the Internet provides a very specific kind of communication. It provides instant communication at a distance—whether that’s across the hall, across town, or across the country. The Internet’s specialized communication involves writing, not talking. It also increasingly involves picturing and presenting.

Writing and picturing both involve certain habits of thinking and seeing. John Dyer captured the writing side well when he wrote, to keep up with friends on Facebook, “we regularly have to think about what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing and then decide which of those things to communicate. In other words, when we do community online we have to think about ourselves much more than when we do community offline.” So when it comes to posting a status on Facebook, there’s a reason we “think in Facebook statuses.” We’ve developed a skill for it. 

A similar habit is true for posting photos on Facebook. I call this the "camera effect": put a camera in someone's hands and they start looking for things to photograph. Just holding a camera shapes how we see the world around us. We are regularly evaluating our experiences, determining whether now is a good time to take a picture. What’s my environment like? Who am I with? What are we doing? Will it look good? Do I look good? What am I wearing? Do I want this to be seen by others? Do I like my surroundings? Am I moved by what I’m experiencing? 

This constant evaluation, of course, has side effects, like pulling us out of the moment. We move away from enjoyment into evaluation. I know for me that move consistently degrades my experiences. 

Have you ever had someone look at you and ask, “Are you doing okay?” like you’re not doing okay when you weren’t even thinking about how you felt. You weren't even aware of yourself. When that happens to me, I suddenly have to stop and ask, “Am I?” followed quickly by “Maybe I’m not! I need to check in and be more aware.”

Now this scenario happens without someone even asking. It can happen all by your lonesome. Who needs your friends to ask how you're doing? Who needs a camera in your hands? All you need is Facebook on your smartphone. Maybe even Facebook Home. Self-consciousness becomes a habit of mind, a state of mind: “Could I post this? Would this look or sound good?”

Were we self-conscious before? Yes. Is it heightened, deepened, and increased by Facebook? Yes. Is this a good thing? You decide. 

Evaluating technology based on its results is a short-sighted way to evaluate technology. You can post a happy status or a cry for help and good things or bad things might happen. But apart from these results, something else is happening all the while. It’s running in the background. It’s shaping how you think. And for all our self-awareness, we are often completely oblivious to it.