Gary’s Newsletter #400 – Is Faceboook Killing your Soul?

Surely I’m among the oldest readers of Relevant, a magazine about “God, Life, and Progressive Culture” geared to twentysomething readers. The September-October 2010 issue features an article about the personal and interpersonal impact of Facebook and other social networking technologies. There’s a similar focus in several  New York Times articles and in Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Here are random conclusions based on recent research and published evaluations:

  • Our brains and ways of thinking are being remolded neurologically by the constant stimulation, overloads of information, and incessant bursts of short term messages that undermine our ability to concentrate or think in depth. New neural pathways are formed as we “abandon sustained immersion and concentration” but “dart about, snagging bits of information,” continually surfing the hypnotic Internet. (Nicholas Carr and NYTimes).
  • Digital devices and the myth that multitasking increases efficiency (the opposite is true) leave us fatigued and less able to learn, remember, and come up with new ideas. Gym routines accompanied by television and iPod docs are less effective than outside workouts or exercise without digital stimulation.(See NYTimes and Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain).
  • For some people, cell phones and the Internet have become addictive, leading to impatience, forgetfulness, and deteriorating ability to maintain healthy relationships in real life. Problems may be looming if you can’t shut off your devices or stay away from Facebook for a day or two (NYTimes)
  • The Relevant article argues persuasively that social technologies can build a subtle narcissism, exhibitionism, self-absorption and neurotic co-dependency.

None of this was relevant In 2002 when this newsletter started as a one-way commentary sent to the email boxes of students and professionals interested in counseling and coaching. Facebook did not exist when this letter began 400 plus weeks ago. Blogs were rare compared to today. Electronic readers and interactive hand-held devices were still novelties, unseen forerunners of new kinds of communication. The benefits of these new technologies is widely acknowledged, writes Relevant author Shane Hipps. Because of technology we read, learn, interact and think differently than we did before. Many in our technologically-connected culture only see the benefits but seem “utterly blind to the liabilities, the inevitable losses that certain technologies bring.” How does this impact your education, business, ministry, or people helping? Please leave a comment.

23 Comments

  1. We seem to add the “new” and the “more” without eliminating or reducing responsibilities. By only adding to life’s backpack, the load gets increasingly heavier, which may be why many of us feel increased stress levels even with the increased speed of the new technologies …

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    1. I love this imagery, Phil. I think I need to get a little backpack and hang it up in my office to remind me that I do just what you describe so often even when I know better. I think some of us don’t like to say no, especially when we are presented with something new and exciting. I love new ideas; my doctor responded by telling me that I have cognitive fatigue and need to slow my brain a bit.

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  2. Its interesting…I have children that value the perceived social benefits of this type of technology, such as Faceook, and please understand im a fervent adopter of good technology. However, I find myself witnessing online the deterioration of ‘qualifed’ relationships, the appreciation of developing a friendship as a considered and rationalised relationship. Now, if you are a ‘friend’ on facebook it automaitcally makes you privvy to whatever I may say through that medium…are friendships so 2 dimensional these days ?. Recently I spent time counselling a friend who had fallen out with his 17 year old son over an incident that had happended many years ago within the family. Historically, I would have expected my friends son to express his unhappyness to a good friend or at most a close group of friends…however, instead he chose to vocalise details of his convesation and of the incident over Facebook..to every ‘friend’ he had, much to the distress of his father. It just seems that the fundamental basics of human to human interaction to help us ‘feel’ a connection with one another, to build a friendship based on trust and actual experiences is disappearing rapidly with new and exciting technology often at the centre.

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    1. Paul, of course you are right on target. What an interesting post. All of us need to be adopters of good technology. The alternative is that we get irrelevant and out of touch really fast. But how do we be engaged in emerging technologies and use them in our work and counseling without the dangerous side effects? I think this is what Shane Hipps is concerned about in his books and his article in Relevant.

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      1. Yes, it is an interesting modern day challenge…I have spent most of my career working with emerging technologies from an IT perspective and when I chose to retrain and move into the counselling/coaching arena I was convinced that my tech background would hold me in good stead when looking at how I could best use emerging technologies to improve or facilitate new methods of delivery for counselling and coaching, and in some ways it did, most definitely. Yet, to date, I continue to be overwhelmingly drawn to the person to person dynamic. Maybe we are still at the stage with emerging technology where we are conscious observers, purveyors of common sense with this new technology and protectors of the very heart of person to person relationships. I pray we continue to ‘enter in’ with open hearts and open minds as we strive to be more effective ‘connectors’ with emerging technology, without abdicating our responsibilities to the very people we seek to help.

  3. Thank you for the insight we all thought was possible if not probable. I guess old age is not the only way to shorten retention and communication skills.

    I wonder how this study impacts traditional church teaching practices here and makes it more difficult for us to work in relational cross cultural settings?

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    1. I struggle a lot with this same question. For a Facebook generation, three point sermons, and anything longer than a few minutes is out. I think we need to partner with younger people in ministry who are fresh in their thinking and methods, even as they maintain their biblical basis. With all due respect to some admirable Christian leaders, I do not think that the way to connect is to go back to the old teaching methods that worked a decade or two ago. I find this in teaching graduate students. The classes need to be interactive and captivating or we lose the students – often to their friends on hand held devices.

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  4. I am on a hunt for personal, intimate connection with those in my life, and it is not going to happen over facebook. I agree also that the multi-tasking thing is so much less efficient! Thank you for sharing this Dr. Collins!

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  5. Wisdom comes with age. We don’t understand the significance of how significant that is until we are older. So it should not surprise us that younger people don’t know what they don’t know.

    I too believe there is a delicate balance into using technology wisely and being “sucked in” to the time consumption and false sense of connectivity it has on many. We need personal connection to build Godly intimacy and deep friendships. If the only connection is via technology I believe it often leaves the illusion of the relationship being more significant than it really is.

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    1. As usual Bruce, you said it well. Your comments are insightful. Ultimately I think more and more people will see that technology based friendships with strangers will come up empty. I have heard that many people are dropping their facebook accounts. Your post may point to some of the reasons.

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  6. Dr. Caroline Leaf’s work in “Who Switched Off My Brain? controlling toxic thoughts and emotions” provides practical strategies backed by powerful science and founded on God’s word ~ to restoring one’s soul! I highly recommend it!

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  7. Intriguing and insightful !

    I’ve often contended that cyber relatinships have a definite quality of “pseudo” relationships, especially when they begin to substitute for face to face authentic interaction or when they become a substitute for deeper authentic conversation. I fear that the younger generation is missing out on how to develop deep intimacy and effective social skills as they get lsot in the internet.

    As noted in the article, social networks run the risk of becoming “the other woman” and being very intrusive into reallife interactions unless they are proactively and diligently managed.

    Thanks, Gary, for sharing your your continued cutting edge thinking and insights. Blessings !

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    1. Thanks Horace. My post concerned a topic tat can stimulate all of our thinking but we don’t quite know how to get around the dangers. On the other hand, people like Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers), who produces a very good blog, are very enthusiastic about social networks, at least for business purposes. We live in interesting times, don’t we?

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  8. I admit I spend time on facebook that may be better spent elsewhere. I like to find out what is going on with my friends on a regular basis and it is quick and easy way to do so. I am not able to keep up with these friends in a more intimate way on a daily basis. I do enjoy pondering their lives and activities as they post them on fb and often I am intrigued to engage with a response. Also my daughter who is away at college and other friends often choose to chat with me via facebook. I admit that if I login to fb at the beginning of the day I often spend way too much time and end up rushing to get to other activities of the day. If I login to fb at the end of the day, I often spend too much time and lose out on sufficient and needed quality sleep. Finally, I admit that I am often inspired to share on fb from my faith practices, family life, and current readings. In this I believe I am giving a new kind of life to my soul. It remains true that I am called to be in this world but I am not of this world. If fb is killing my soul, i have gained the world and lost everything. Could it also be that fb is one of many modes of engagement while I am in this world?

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    1. Trish, I love your response. It is different and more FB positive than some of the other posts, including my original article. Thanks so much for your insights. Maybe the problem for all of us is to control our connections with social networks. Sometimes I think that text messaging has more addiction potential.

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  9. I have been running all week and here I am just now adding my responses. And BTW I did not even look at Facebook in the midst of my busy schedule! I have read all of the posts and appreciate everybody’s contribution. Thanks so much. The comments that have come this week do a lot to make this blog what I have long been hoping it would become.

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  10. I just love your cutting-edge comments and contributions. I don’t form easily an opinion but something is definitely “suss” in the land of facebook adherents. Depth is rare, that’s why I posted your article on my facebook page, hoping against hope some of my facebook friends may start doing some in-depth sharing for a change…They woudn’t like to hear that, of course!

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  11. I think that what this article is saying is completely true! And as much as I would like to say “get rid of your facebook profile” or “get rid of your cell phone”, I have to admit that to do this would be disabling to a person in this day and age. What I do instead of getting rid of my electronics and my social networks is I choose to fast from them for weeks or months at a time, every so often. This resets the way I think. I am not too worried about myself concerning all this technology, because I know I can decide to quit over-stimulating myself at any time, and I do on a regular basis. I just wonder about the people who never do…

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    1. My guess is that few people take a “fast” like this. I have told people about our vacation trip without Internet connection and the usual response is shock and a look of dismay accompanied by a comment like “I could NEVER do that.” I think this is core: does technology (including my cell phone and various Internet connections) control me or do I control the technology that is available? I suspect that most people could answer that question as it applies to themselves

      Reply

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