The Church of Facebook is an interesting book, but it fails miserably at establishing its primary message. According to the subtitle of the book, author Jesse Rice intends to show us how the hyperconnected are redefining community. What he actually demonstrates is that community cannot really take place online.
Beginning with a sociological overview of the theory of spontaneous order [illustrated by the way pedestrians synchronized in response to the dangerous initial instability of London’s Millenium Bridge], he continues to demonstrate why humans need authentic connection. In doing so, he takes us through various sociological studies, delivered in an engaging, rather conversational manner.
One of the things he notes is that our need for a certain quality of connection finds its basis in Genesis 2:18, where God declares that He will make a helper suitable for Adam:
“While Adam’s ability to care for and relate in healthy ways to his environment was vitally important (as it is for us today), his greatest need for connection was with one of his own. The quality of connection capable of meeting Adam’s need for home was to be found in intimate relationship with another human being… [B]y intentionally creating both Adam and Eve… “in His image” and placing them in unique relationship with one another and with Himself, God demonstrated that the quality of a connection clearly matters” [p. 49].
Likening the impact of social networking such as Facebook to the impact of the invention of air conditioning and refrigeration on culture, Rice stresses our need to engage and utilize this new frontier wisely. He explains the appeal of Facebook, while also noting the dangers of the medium: that it creates social distancing, a fake [ideal] presentation of self, and “friendship” that is vastly different and often antithetical to real-world relationships. He also notes that three types of boundaries get “especially fuzzy in regard to Facebook: (1) privacy and authority, (2) peer and romantic relationships, and (3) time management and personal identity” [p.128].
Furthermore, he notes that other commentators have noted that “what happens online is connection – not community” [p. 167], for “community certainly requires something more than just disembodied clicks of ‘add as friend,’ and at the same time, there’s something community-like happening online that deserves to be taken seriously” [p. 169]. But wanting that online connection to become authentic community isn’t enough.
Despite these dangers, Rice feels that Facebook can be redeemed and he dedicates the final chapter to helpful suggestions to pull off something more akin to community armed with “intentionality, humility and authenticity” [p. 216]. Again, I don’t think he makes his case. On the other hand, he does make a strong case that genuine community is something that churches need to strive for – something well beyond fellowship in neat little rows, as it were – because not only do we intuitively seek such community as human beings, it’s what the church was intended to be from the very first chapter of Acts.
Even if Rice doesn’t really make the point he intended to [and he certainly never illustrates how a hyperconnected community is redefining community, though he argues that we should], I would recommend this book purely for how well it establishes our need for genuine community and what that even looks like.
You can learn more about the book at http://ChurchofFacebook.com.
From the Bookwyrm’s Lair,