I'm currently in the process of studying how our new technologies, including the social media are changing us. I've reviewed a growing number of articles and books, and almost all of them have a few useful things to say and contribute to my increasing understanding. But The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice is one of the finest I've come across yet. There is a lot of wisdom in this book about the media we use, as well as a good start in thinking about how we can more wisely use them.
Rice is a writer and musician with a master's degree in counseling psychology who previously served as a worship arts director. He has a bright future as a writer.
The Church of Facebook is actually partially misnamed: Rice doesn't relate Facebook much directly to the church or even use the church as a metaphor for Facebook, although he does deal with community (as the subtitle suggests). What he does do (and does well) is to analyze the ways that the social media, exemplified by Facebook, are changing our behavior and relationships. Unlike some of the other books on the topic I've read, Rice has gone beyond the mere truisms that any book on the subject can tell you. Instead, he goes deeper into the hows and whys of how Facebook and other social media are changing us, and not necessarily for the better.
Rice chose Facebook (FB from now on) because it best represents 3 realities that are work in the technologies we use:
1. "There is a force capable of synchronizing a large population in very little time, thereby creating spontaneous order."
2. "This spontaneous order can generate outcomes that are entirely new and unpredictable."
3. "These unpredictable outcomes require the affected population to adapt their behavior to more adequately live within the new spontaneously generated order."
Chapters 1 and 2 relate to point #1 above. Chapter 1 on Connection was a very slow part of the book, and I was afraid the book would not get to the point. In Chapter 1, Rice makes the point that everyone is looking for a home and that FB is a home.
Chapter 2, "Revolution," talks about the rapid rise of FB and the changes it has begun to bring. Rice further defines "home" in terms of home is: "where we keep all the stuff that matters most to us;" "wherever we find family," "where we feel safe because we can control the environment," and "where we can just be ourselves."
Chapters 3 and 4 relate to point #2 above. In Chapter 3, Dispensation, Rice begins to examine the more negative side of FB and the outcomes it generates. FB empowers us with an endless number of choices over which we have control. But, paradoxically, too much control generates the same outcome as having not control. Users of FB and other social media are "hyperconnected," and FB leads to relationships that are less mature and less "real." In Chapter 4, "Illumination," Rice explores how FB collapses social contexts so that information and social acts lose their context, distorting our identities. 3 boundaries that get fuzzy in FB are: privacy and authority; peer and romantic relationships; and time management and person identity.
Chapters 5 and 6 relate to point #3 above. Chapter 5, "Adaptation," explores the issue of community, and here Rice persuasively concludes that FB, ultimately, facilitates "connection," but not true, genuine "community." In Chapter 6, "Regeneration," Rice begins by looking at Jesus encounter with the woman at the well and from that derives the belief that to use FB in a wise way requires intentionality, humility, and authenticity. One of the challenges will be to combat "busyness" and "procrastination."
Rice concludes with a list of 5 what might be considered "best practices" for FB and social media in general. This is a good list and a good start, although we all need more discussion of practice and not just theory.
Although The Church of Facebook gets bogged down too much by its anecdotes sometimes, it is lively and essential reading. The book would also benefit from the addition of an index.
If you are concerned about how the social media are distorting us and want to understand better how they are doing so, then The Church of Facebook is a great place to start.