At the start I was locked out of Facebook. A brief interlude in the world of work after graduating meant while others were flocking to the new fad that would come to orient much of our lives I was stuck on the outside. Today Facebook is 10 and we’ve been friends most of that time.
Facebook wasn’t the reason I enrolled on a Masters course. That was because I couldn’t find a job, but it was certainly a benefit. Suddenly I had access to friends I’d last seen at school or university, housemates who’d moved to Australia and girls I’d fancied but never quite summoned up the nerves to ask out.
Across 1,015 photos the last eight years of my life are chronicled. The fun times, the boring times, the pictures of food, stunning sunsets and misty dawns. The 541 friends breaking my own pointless limit on the number of friends I think is too many to keep up with. I’ll sit down one evening when I’m bored and decide who gets culled. Who can live without my self-indulgent status updates, or whose invites to play Candy Crush Saga I can dispense with. I can run analytics on my friends: who comments the most, the gender divide, find out what time of what day I’m most likely to share a link (Friday afternoon). A recording of life metered out via an algorithm set to decode my interests and interactions.
My sister rejoined Facebook recently after a two-year absence. Now I can see more cute photos of my niece and nephew. I organise something for my birthday and realise I haven’t told the couple of friends who have dispensed with the social network as an appendage to their life.
On Sunday I walked over Millennium Bridge on my way to church and two girls leant away from their phone as they took their own picture with St Paul’s in the background. The selfie as an icon of the socially networked generation. But which is actually a product of detachment from others. They could have asked a passerby to take the picture, removed the trailing arm from the shot and achieved a better result. But the selfie is a thing. It is what we can do on our own without others (even if we grab a friend and pull them into the shot).
The selfie as an icon of our individualism. What we do ourselves matters most.
And yet, Facebook is social. It may be designed to revolve around me but it really does engender community. I travelled to Northern Ireland and between Facebook and its little sister Twitter managed to fill a weekend that was previously blank with friends and activities.
I have friends I keep up with who I wouldn’t otherwise. Babies born, rings exchanged, jobs lost and those found, hearts broken and lives restored. It can be a place of celebration and comfort for the grieving. It lets me be known and lets me know others. Only sometimes I wished Facebook could transmute a hug.
But the me who is known is the me I let it be. It can be a portrait I paint, one photoshopped to fit the bill like a cover photo cropped to remove the extraneous pixels.
I learnt recently about the jussive form (Andy Crouch, Playing God). When God created He ‘let there be’, when we post, when we share, we are joining in an act of creation, we are saying: ‘let there be.’ When we are trying to recreate ourselves in an image other than God’s we do violence to His creation. But when we are living out the form He created, as His ambassador, as an icon with His own likeness at our core, we are the continuation of a pattern of creation long underway and continuing with each step we take.
Sometimes Facebook drives me crazy. Sometimes I’ve had enough. Sometimes I think I spend too much time on it, or time waiting for the little red numbers on the corner of icons on my iPhone to tell me someone has interacted with me.
Sometimes I want to be liked. As Facebook blows out the 10 candles on its birthday cake maybe I’ve learnt that being known and knowing others is far better than any count of likes, comments or shares.
(picture via Creative Commons)