One of the most perceptive, non-kneejerk critiques of the technologies like Facebook that take and keep us online is made by Shane Hipps in a recent article in Relevant Magazine called "What's [Actually] On Your Mind?" Quoting Marshall McLuhan, "we are what we behold," a pithy recognition of a nascent idolatry. The technologies we use are "dramatically transforming our understanding of ourselves, our definition of community and our experience of God," he says. The problem is that very few users are cognizant of the deep impact these technologies have on them.
First, he references the exhibitionism of Facebook, our fascination with the image we project. We are not so much who we really are but who we want others to think we are; a subtle narcissism takes hold. As Hipps says, "we become creators and consumers of our own brand," carefully arranging photos, quotes, favorite books, music, and so on in a way that projects not just what we love but what we want others to think we love. Is this cynical? I don't think so. I feel the pull of it myself. I'd like you to think I am an intelligent, culturally-saavy Christian, one who reads books above himself, listens to artful music, reads a passel of hip blogs, and all in all knows a little about everything. It's me, you see. . . or is it? Is it just what I truly like or what I want to like or want to be thought of as liking? Sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between the image of the beholder and the beholder, particularly when you are constantly checking yourself out.
He also points out how that while Facebook connects us to more digital relationships, it actually erodes our ability to form meaningful relationships in real life, particularly for the still developing egos of adolescents, some of the largest users of social media. The technology becomes an obstacle to healthy developmental progress in young people.
And with Twitter, a technology that encourages us to externalize our every thought, "we create a condition of absence in a world that desperately needs our presence." We are so very there, tweeting ourselves into every moment, and yet we are profoundly absent in any real sense. Impulsivity and impulsive thinking are encouraged. I often tweet links to articles I find interesting, and yet I suspect few people take the time to actually read them. We are moving too fast, our attention spans truncated by the breathless pace of of the instant thought.
The solution? Hipps suggests a technology fast, the point being to find a way to gain enough distance from the technology so that you can perceive its effect upon you. (I should note that this works with television as well.) Not staring at your online persona for a while may help you notice who you really are --- what your real likes and dislikes, personality quirks, and genuine gifts may be.
Can you do it? Are you afraid you'll miss something? I have done it, and I guarantee you will not miss a single thing of importance. As I told my boss one time, if it's that important, call me. You know my number.