Facebook: Worse than a Waste of Time, but with Pix

Matt Labash and Sørina Higgins are mostly right: Facebook is a waste of time. And here are a few more reasons to hate it:

1. I keep my “friend” list to people I have actually met. That means I’m constantly risking annoying or offending nice people who have read my articles or books, or who have heard me speak, or who otherwise want to get to know me better. (See my website, please: It has lots more information than my Facebook profile.) But if I don’t keep my list to acquaintances, then I get deluged with information about people I don’t know doing things I don’t care about.

2. Even the people I do know seem to post all sorts of “status updates” that provide information about them doing things I don’t care about. So you’re tired: So what? So you’ve been up late working on a project: Maybe you should spend less time procrastinating by reading and writing on Facebook and get your freakin’ work done! So you’re celebrating some event in your life that you’re not specifying and I’d have to scroll back through dozens of other people’s postings to find it . . . ah, forget it. Sorry. Warmest congratulations on–whatever.

3. Many of my Facebook friends are very smart people. Not just a little bit smart, but graduate student smart. I know that partly because many of them are, or have been, my graduate students. Yet they so often sound so witless on Facebook that I wonder how they ever got accepted into Regent College and how I ever passed them in my courses. How can a medium of social linkage be a good thing when it provides us opportunity after opportunity to embarrass ourselves and develop contempt for each other? No, I prefer to recall these students in their intelligent mode, thoughtfully stroking their chins in class, slowly raising a hand to offer a well-phrased question or even a properly deferential inquiry as to whether I did, at least in this particular instance, know what the hell I was talking about.

4. I am too vulnerable to feelings of guilt for shirking what I suppose are social obligations. Someone wants me to join a cause about which I know little and care much, much less. Someone else wants me to be a “fan” of something uninteresting or weird or banal. (Become a “fan” of endangered species! Or good government! Or the Bible!) Still another “friend” sends me a goofy virtual gift, or pokes me (Do that again and I’ll break it off), or suggests someone else I should befriend (and now they somehow know that they have been nominated, and are breathlessly waiting to see if I’ll come through–or so I imagine). And, worst of all, someone I don’t like at all but with whom I have to make nice for professional or political reasons then asks me to be his or her Facebook friend. What I’d like to do is become their Facebook enemy and flame them. But instead I have to carefully weigh up expediency and honesty–and who wants to spend time doing that?

No, I’m no friend of yours, Facebook. You might have been a fun thing in your original form for 15-30-year-old singles who had lots of time on their hands and lots of loneliness to assuage. But you’re mostly a timesink, and my life is threatened by those at every turn already. I’d quit you right now, except…

…it is fun to see people’s photos. Astonishing, sometimes. And heartwarming especially to see those of beloved friends and relations far away.

So I’m staying on for that. But only that. Don’t ask me to become a “fan” of anything. Don’t ask me to participate in another pointless survey: “Find Out How Pathetic Is Your Judgment Regarding Wise Time Use by Taking This Easy Quiz!” And do not ever, ever poke me.

But photos? Always a pleasure. Keep posting them, friends!

0 Responses to “Facebook: Worse than a Waste of Time, but with Pix”

  1. Jeff Loach

    John, I appreciate the sentiment (if I dare to use the word) you expressed about Facebook. While I was a reluctant bandwagonner, I now see the value in it: ministry and witness. I dislike it for many of the same reasons you do (though I am guilty of a few of them, too), but I tolerate those things simply because there are opportunities to reach people for Christ via Facebook – maybe not as concrete as face-to-face social networking, but the sort of evangelism that might be classified as 21st century seed slinging.

    I’ve been known to play the curmudgeon, too, so rest assured you have some company!

    Passionately His,
    Jeff

  2. Josh Wilton

    I have found FB enormously useful for assaulting Matt Chandler and other archnemeses (wait, can you have more than one?) with virtual brickbats.

  3. Trevor Stackhouse

    Jeez, Dad, was this your acceptance speech to the Old and Crotchety Club?

  4. Andy Rowell

    I think you are basically right on and few would disagree with your points here.

    The good news is that you can go to the “Edit Options” at the bottom of the status updates and hide people who do not use Facebook appropriately in your mind. (I have 79 hidden of my 500 friends hidden).

    You can also turn off your notifications for most everything so you don’t get emails about everything.

    It helps me keep up a little with a lot of people which leads to further conversations that may be useful in witness. It is supplemental to face-to-face relationships.

    I agree with your policy of only being friends with people you know in real life. I think strangers or fans of yours understand that. They can read your blog.

    At worst, just ignore Facebook.

    Facebook is a developing cultural phenomenon and manners and rudeness are still in flux. By modeling what we think is appropriate Facebook behavior, we can influence other people. I think we pastors and professors have more experience writing and speaking publicly (and no one should think anything they put on Facebook is private); we have learned the right mix of positive, inspiring, funny, and insightful whereas some other folks haven’t had as much opportunity to refine this public personality.

    In all seriousness, I think you would like Twitter.

    Andy Crouch is a good example of how I would think you would use Twitter.
    http://twitter.com/ahc

    or me:
    http://twitter.com/AndyRowell

    andy

  5. cindra stackhouse taetzsch

    Gotta hand it to Trevor for putting it out there. Hilarious.

  6. Jeff Loach

    John, you asked for “an example or two”. Not being wholly sure of what you’re seeking an example or two, I’ll assume ministry opportunities with Facebook.

    The best example is actually the very same reason you used Facebook today: the shameless promotion of a blog. While mine is less frequented than yours (for many good and obvious reasons), I find that most of my traffic does come from Facebook and/or Twitter. It’s been demonstrated with Twitter, perhaps likewise with Facebook, that if you include a link, you’re more likely to get attention. So at least twice weekly, I update my blog with Encouragement From The Word and an audio version of my Sunday message, in an attempt to draw people, if not deeper in their walk with God, at least toward considering God. It’s probably not as effective as face-to-face social networking, but it is *something* – and it goes to a far wider audience than I could hope to reach if by virtue of nothing else than geography.

    I have also had some remarkably civil theological debates via Facebook – in much the same manner as you facilitate them via your blog.

    In short, Facebook is a tool, a servant, in contemporary culture. When it ceases to have an effect vis-a-vis the amount of time I dedicate to it, it will cease to be a tool. But for now…

    Hope this is what you were asking.

    Jeff

  7. Ceri Rees

    Dr Stackhouse

    I’m afraid I think I might fall under point 3 of your objections. Or at least, I hope I fall under “graduate student smart,” but I’m afraid I’m certain I fall into the “witless” on facebook category too. Feel free to remember me thoughtfully stroking my chin though…

    Unbelievably – even sinfully – tempted to poke you right now… 😉

  8. poserorprophet

    I’ve never joined — read too much McLuhan, Heidegger, Ellul, Debord and Baudrillard to want to get involved in that sort of medium.

    Does that make me ‘old and crotchety’ or ‘graduate student smart’?

    • audrey Molina

      i’d like to out dan – he signs in on his wife’s facebook account.

      i have a love/hate thing with facebook also. however twitter is just straight up hatred. inanity is cranked up a level and the picture quality isn’t as good.

  9. Beth

    I love that you tagged this post under “humour” and “wisdom.” Next Facebook status update: “John Stackhouse is humourous and wise.”

    All joking aside (though it’s never completely aside), I, too, have misgivings about Facebook. Yes, it’s merely a tool, which can be used for good or for ill, but it’s right to question whether it lends itself more to good or ill. I worry less about the social guilt and friend request issues (I’m not famous enough to have the same problems you do). I worry more about the ratio of time we (as a culture) end up spending face-to-face with friends versus the time we spend in front of computer screens, pretending to be friends. I worry about how addicted we seem to be to information, information of any kind, no matter how useful or pertinent it may be to our actual lives.

    But there’s one positive thing I’ve realized about Facebook. In an age of fragmentation, when it’s possible to have several groups of friends and to act differently around each group, Facebook is the great leveler. Facebook forces us to present the same image to our family as we do to our peers, the same to our “church friends” as we do to our neighbors or work friends, the same to our classmates as to our professors :). They all see the same status updates, the same pictures. I think this is a huge benefit, as it forces a level of honesty (or at least the same broad, consistent lie). It is a surprisingly integrating force, even if it is narcissistic.

    I, too, spend most of my Facebook time looking at pictures and keeping in touch with out-of-town family and friends, or playing the odd online game with my brother. The rest of it, the comments and updates and reactions to updates, I see kind of like I see small talk. It’s relatively boring, not very deep, mostly passes the time… but sometimes… sometimes you find something you have in common with someone that you weren’t aware of, or you get a chance to tease someone in a good-natured way (as you have with me on Facebook!), which further solidifies the level of comfort in your friendship.

    All in all, I think Facebook can be voyeuristic, it can be addictive, it can be a waste of time, people should take breaks from it or delete it if their life situation or personality makes it more harmful than good, but it’s not all bad.

    That being said, you’ll never see me on Twitter…

  10. Abounding Media

    You are 100% correct. I was a reluctant Facebook-joiner and basically think it’s useless today. People wonder – after I have asked them a question – “didn’t you see it on my Facebook?” The answer is no. I almost never look at the thing.

  11. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, friends, for pointing out some of the things Facebook can be good for, depending who you are and why you’re on it.

    Thanks, son (#5), for giving me yet another reason to cut you out of my inconsequential will, and thanks also to my sister (#7) for simplifying matters still further.

    Ms. Rees (#10), I have never found you witless, and good for you for resisting sinful temptation. Your GPA remains intact.

    PoserProphetDude is indeed graduate student smart, and here’s hoping you become graduate smart ere long, eh?

    As for the BethBloggerEver (#12), you are quite right that joking is never aside, and I urge you to reconsider whether you want to suggest that my being either humorous or wise counts as a status UPDATE. The wise and humorous comments that follow do not completely suffice to allay the grief in my heart attending your slander. Et tu, Bethe?

  12. joyfullyyours

    Hi John –
    Just want to add to what Jeff said about ministry opportunities.

    I have found that some awesome connections have happened with the families I serve through facebook. Most have been conversations launched through my status updates.

    I, through their status updates, have been able to know how to pray for them, to be able to do some in-person pastoral care, and to rejoice in family accomplishments.

    It’s the main reason I stay on Facebook.

  13. Matt C

    John,

    Calling something you don’t happen to like a “waste of time” (ie a universal statement) is akin to you deciding for everyone that they should only eat what you find palatable.

    But I agree 100% with you about FB. In addition to all your reasons, in my 12 mo stint on FB I found myself

    1.) constantly wrestling with the temptation to measure myself against my friends. Who’s more witty, interesting, “successful”, etc.

    2.) constantly gauging whether my attempts at self-disclosure and humor had a net gain or loss in my respectability (gaining with some friends, losing rapidly with others)…

  14. Reggie

    I have been a Christian for over a year now. Before I was born again I had just joined face book but let it go. I was spending time in the Word and thought facebook was a waste of time. However, just recently I have been active in facebook because it is a good way to show people my awesome life which I live in Christ. I post photos of my family and places we travel. My facebook friends know that I am a Christian and see how much joy we have. I hope that it is contagious. Facebook can be a waste of time and it is obvious by the way some of those who use it. Nevertheless, what a way to shine our light.
    Reggie

  15. Paul McClure

    I deactivated my account about three weeks ago with the sudden string of celebrity deaths. No, this was not some quasi cyber-vigil to the King of Pop. But on that day, the number of people who posted status updates like, “OMG, Michael Jackson dead??!!”, or “RIP Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon,” or “Thriller Tribute Party tonight at my place,” was mind-boggling. The huge problem with facebook is that all important issues are trivialized. In the case of Jackson’s death, for example, one either treats it with an artificial sympathy or makes a complete mockery of it. Politics and charity fare no better in this arena. Can someone really be charitable by simply joining a facebook group or cause? Sure, I enjoyed being able to keep up with friends from afar, especially those I met in Vancouver a few summers ago, but they know where to reach me, and the cons finally seem to outweigh the pros. Thanks, Professor Stackhouse, for giving me more reasons to stay away.

  16. Micah Smith

    Amen. I am becoming more convinced of the lack of value in Facebook. I joined it because I figured I need to at least try it, as it is valued by friends, family, and acquaintances, before I toss it out.

    If the medium is the message, then I will never communicate with someone I care about through Facebook, and Twitter fares even worse for me in that regard. Evangelism through Facebook makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I don’t have wonderful knockdown arguments as to why Facebook shouldn’t be used in this manner, but the idea of virtual sharing of the gospel strikes me as a good way of making virtual Christians and immunizing them against an authentic, transforming conversion.

    Facebook doesn’t match up for me, as a good private messaging tool (email replacement), photo sharing app, social networking update tool, and general communication device.

  17. James Allaway

    I find Facebook quite handy for keeping up with bite-size news of people who now live in different countries than me and the events stuff can be quite useful. But I am seriously tempted to adopt another friends policy of “de-friending” any people who participate in the ever-increasing number of pointless, annoying and stupid facebook quizzes. “What Disneyland attraction are you?” For crying out loud who creates this stuff? And don’t get me started on mafia wars, vampires or zombies! Facebook had the potential to be quite useful but it is danger of turning into an alternative medium for spam

  18. J

    Got an invite to this group today and am very curious of what you might think of it:

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=25394770723

    “This group is an experiment to try to see if we can get all Christians on Facebook into a group together. There are often so many divisions among Christians, so we are forming this group to help bring together the Global Body of Christ.”

  19. John Stackhouse

    “This group is an experiment to see how many Christians, understandably grieved at disunity in the Church, will grasp at any straw, however patently pathetic, in order to do something, ANYTHING, to remediate the situation.

    “–Which this Facebook grouping clearly won’t. Not a bit. So it’s really not even a straw at all, but a stupid, sentimental illusion.

    “–So it’s really an experiment to try to see how many silly Christians really are out there. We’re thinking: ‘A LOT.'”

  20. J

    Thanks — I feel like a bit less of a hardened cynic now. 😛

  21. robahas

    Thanks for the great critique. I also like to ponder the “arrogance of virtual self-expression” on the web, and especially on Facebook. How we present ourselves as being hip or cool or whatever. Obviously it is just an extension of what we do every day in the “real world”. But the opportunity seems greater here for self-agrandizement. I’d love to hear your take on SimChurch, by Douglas Estes (book and SimChurch itself), which Zoncervan is pushing these days and especially on Facebook. This is a serious attempt at virtual church using avatars in a virtual environment.

  22. Wayne Park

    ok, I qualify to comment since I’m a legit student @ Regent.

    Much agreed about the fb annoyance – that’s why there’s a block feature that is conveniently discreet so no feelings are hurt. But agreed – much nonsense is posted. I try to keep updates limited to things of importance. I like what Len Sweet says, (via jr briggs blog)

    Len Sweet (@lensweet) said that the secret to his tweets is to not answer “What are you doing?” but to answer “What are you thinking about?” or even better “What are you paying attention to right now?” I don’t care if you had a quarter pounder at McDonalds (and if you tell me that enough times I’ll unfollow you quickly) but I do want to know what you’re pondering. New ideas, questions, concerns, thoughts – and much of that is worth learning.

    How succint.

  23. Arslan Farooq

    Hi

    I like what you say. And I agree with it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  24. Ahuman being

    i agree with you.. why would anyone share with “people” his feels that he is bored or happy.. i don’t like facebook .i hate it & myspace too.. just spending time with virtual “FRIENDS”
    why don’t exploit this time enjoying the family happiness huh ??or doing something useful ?or “nearly ” anything else ??

    sorry for my english

  25. marchello bollatti

    very well put, I had to deactive my account,it is useless….although I was able to actually meet some old friends of mine…

  26. Joseph

    You disappoint me. If you want to see photos of people or keep in touch with your ‘friends,’ have tea and share photos. Or write them a letter. If they are worth that much to you, you would walk out to the mailbox for them. The ‘I don’t have time for that ancient stuff’ is not a viable excuse for not doing it, but it is a great expression of your actual feelings or lack thereof.

    • John Stackhouse

      Well, I’ll just have to bear up, somehow, under your disappointment, won’t I? Sad, though, that you can’t tell a silly over-the-top rant from a serious piece of criticism.

      • Joseph

        If I put 44¢, an envelope, and a little ink into it, would you be able to differentiate? I did not mean to lash out at you personally Mr. Stackhouse, but it makes me disappointed in some many others that they have ‘hundreds’ of friends and lead ‘busy’ lives. I am a lucky man to know that the people I love are mutual in their feelings, and am even luckier that I can count all those people on two hands. These types of relationship are becoming increasingly rare, and thus, increasingly valuable; though they were already very valuable to start.

        By the way, letters are always astonishing and heartwarming. Online, I hear the voice of disembodied wrath when I read someone else’s writing, regardless of who it is writing. In a letter, I see the writer’s handwriting and cannot help but think of them, their face, voice, and demeanor. I always am able to read a letter the way a friend intended to write it, and it always brings me closer to them, whether it is because I know they held the very piece of paper I am holding, or because a letter so acutely evokes their presence in our heart.

  27. Dr Vasant Chitguppi

    People using Facebook are trying to show off how smart, witty , funny they are in passing comments on any subject. While doing so they most of times become outright nasty. And they vie with each other in being nastier. It smacks of cynicism which gets worse and worse. And I suspect facebook makes people to waste time. When I see sometimes people passing derogatory comments on celebrities, I suspect that their minds have become sick through the competetion in nastiness.

  28. James

    That says more of the people you are “friends” with on Facebook than Facebook itself. I don’t see any such behaviour among my friends. (Not to say that I would reject friendship with someone who might fall into such behaviour — that’s just the way it’s worked out so far.)

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