They smiled at the good
And frowned at the bad
And sometimes they were very sad
—from Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
I’ve written two long blog posts on the subject of social-networking media and have planned for a third. You’d think that would be enough. But I keep receiving comments and emails responding to my original article to which I have felt compelled to reply at length. To my own bafflement. Why? Why can’t I just thank them for their comments and let it go? Why do I have to write and write and write?
I’ve been spilling ink on this Facebook/social-networking question all out of proportion to how I actually use these sites, which is actually pretty limited. Last night as I was responding to another email from a reader of my article, I wondered why I was so passionate about defending Facebook against those who seem to feel that nothing good came come of it. Especially since I don’t actually like Facebook all that much. I find it a useful tool for reconnecting and staying connected it; but most of Facebook’s design and features do annoy me. I use it rarely, sporadically and with some reservations.
I was actually bothered enough by my response to this and other questions, that I took the question to my night prayers as I was going to bed. I asked God to help me to understand myself and to understand his will for me.
I came to understand that there were three interlocking issues.
A False Dichotomy
First, is my inability to abide fuzzy thinking. Right before I wrote my original article, I’d been reading Christ the Tiger by Thomas Howard in which he devotes not a few pages to discussing the gnostic tendency some Christians have to “preach a morality that exists in things rather than acts”, and “to find the dichotomy in the universe to be between matter and spirit rather than between good and evil.” His book discusses this in terms of Christians who reject wholesale any consumption of movies or alcohol; but I found that the arguments he uses seemed exceedingly apt to most of the anti-Facebook arguments I was reading. People who attacked the medium seemed to blame the medium instead of people’s use of it. Therefore it was not so much Facebook itself I was defending as much as clear thinking and a proper Christian morality which sees Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking media as tools which are neither good nor bad in themselves but only in the uses to which they are put.
That’s not the only type of fuzzy thinking I’ve seen in arguments against Facebook, though it is the most egregious. I’ve also seen straw man attacks, decrying Facebook not for what it really is but for what it is thought to be. I’ve seen generalizations and projection: what is bad for me must be bad for everyone else and if you claim it is good for you you must be claiming it is good for everyone.
It’s not so much that I think a good argument can’t be made for opting out of Facebook. In fact I think I’ve seen many good reasons put forward to do exactly that. But it drives me crazy to see logical fallacies and poor argumentation. If you are going to make an argument, make a good argument. I’m very interested in seeing thoughtful, well-written critiques of social media.
Second, I came to understand again what I already know, that for me writing is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Writing about Facebook and social networking is for me a part of my process of discernment. I do not write to state what I think but to explore an issue I have not thought about at length and to discover what I think.
I know that for me finding the right balance in anything can be difficult. I tend to be extreme and obsessive, to stay online too long and to stay up too late. I know I need to find a better balance. And yet I also know that for me interactions on the internet have been good, a blessing even. I don’t feel called to give it up; but to find a path of moderation.
Praise and Thanksgiving
And that brings me to my third point of understanding. A part of the balance that has been missing in my time spent online is inviting God explicitly into that space in my life. If the internet is, as I’ve been maintaining, a source of good in my life, then don’t I owe thanks to God? All good things come from him and I am an ungrateful child not to acknowledge his gifts. So in part all of this writing has been to come to this point, has been compelled by a need to offer God fitting acknowledgment, thanks and praise for his blessings in my life. I need to bless his name here in cyberspace because it is here in cyberspace that he has blessed me. This space too is his gift to me. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, if anything good have come from them, if they have moved me to prayer, united me to my brothers and sisters in Christ, then I need to publicly acknowledge these gifts.
Let me be clear—because I know at least one reader will completely misread my intent here and take these remarks out of context—in saying that social-networking media have at times been a gift and a blessing for me I don’t mean to imply that they are great and wonderful forces for good in my life or anything other than the smallest and most insignificant of tools that I have used. I don’t mean to deny their very real flaws or the fact that for many people they have become occasions for sin, addictions, or distractions. Still, for me they have had their benefits and even the smallest of gifts should be acknowledged graciously.
That is the other reason I feel a passionate need to write on this subject. I am a child thankful for her father’s gifts who wants everyone to know who gave them to her, that they are good, and likewise how great and generous he is in bestowing his gifts. I also want to encourage others who have found good in them, help them to see these tools in this light, to acknowledge the good as well as the bad and to help them find balance and moderation in a medium that I realize is all too prone to excess, that does not praise moderation or reward restraint.
I know the best way to practice moderation is to simultaneously recognize the good, thank God for it, and also to recognize it’s limitations and pitfalls. The way to prevent the internet in all its forms from becoming an idol is to put it in its proper place, not to vilify it but to acknowledge it as a useful tool, though one that sometimes does pull me away from where I need to be.
And I found myself coming back to the simple words in my daughter’s storybook. We should smile and the good and frown at the bad and sometimes we should allow ourselves to be sad at the fallen things of this world. Moderation and proportion in all things.