Friday, October 17, 2008

Thoughts on Facebook

I've been diving into the world of Facebook quite a bit in the past few days, and I'm discovering what everyone else has discovered before me: it's fun, and very addicting. I have been wondering why this is, and why I have found myself checking in several times a day to see if any new friend requests have shown up, and to see what others have been doing or saying.

I think anything that is fun, as well as anything that is potentially addicting, finds at its root the same thing, what C.S. Lewis called "the inconsolable longing." We all have a deep need for community and a deep need to feel that we matter, to believe that we're a part of something bigger than ourselves. It's a longing rooted in the fact that we're strangers and aliens in a strange world, made for heaven, in which we will commune with God and others in ways more profoundly than the most intimate exchanges we ever experience on earth.

Intimacy in heaven will be a glorious thing, and we will experience it in such a way that all earthly intimacy will pale in comparison. Lewis refers to St. Augustine's belief that "the rapture of the saved soul will 'flow over' in the glorified body. In the light of our special and depraved appetites we cannot imagine this torrens voluptatis, and I warn everyone seriously not to try." I think Facebook could easily become one tiny piece of the strategy that people use to fulfill this need for torrens voluptatis, which we were made to experience.

I've been ODing on Facebook the past couple of days. It is a drug of sorts, and I think the reason it's pleasurable is that in the solitary space of one's own home, a person feels connected with others. It's a fake intimacy, if you ask me. It does serve a great purpose in being able to connect with old classmates and friends, but what does it mean when someone has over 400 friends? Really? I may have 400 acquaintances, but I certainly don't have 400 friends. Several people on Facebook have said to me that "you know, it's now official, because it doesn't mean we're really friends unless we're friends on Facebook." How absurd.

The jury's still out for me on Facebook, partly because I could easily see it becoming a crutch like too many other things before. I derive pleasure from Facebook in a way that I don't think is healthy. It's sort of like eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard when I'm in a funk. The first sign that Facebook could be slightly unhealthy came the first time I was disappointed that there was no comment on my wall, or no new friend request. How strange it is that something so new in my life caused me a twinge of disappointment! It reveals how much we all long for something to fill that empty space within us, the "God-shaped" void which can only be filled by Him. There's no question that Facebook, and other social networking sites, have become a drug to make life a little more tolerable.

I think the fun of Facebook is a sign of how deeply held our longing for heaven is. It seems banal to say such a thing, but I believe it's true. We can feel connected with as many people as we ever would like to. What explains someone adding me as a friend who was merely an acquaintance in college? It's very strange to me. Granted, there is a connection with a shared past, but beyond that what really motivates it? I think it stems from our desire to be part of one another. I do believe that in heaven we'll be connected with others in ways that we cannot comprehend, and as Lewis says, we shouldn't even attempt to try to comprehend it, since trying to project on to our friendships the closest expression of human intimacy on earth seems a bit disturbing. But I am convinced that the intimacy that a man and wife experience is also a mere shadow of the intimacy we will feel with our friends and family in heaven. Our union with Christ, and others, will be a consummation of love, love that stems through and from Him who is called Love.

In the meantime, I'm still going to be having fun with Facebook. It just needs to be in it's proper place, and not disordered, as the Church Fathers would tell us.

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