“Who do you say that I am?” Famous words, famously spoken by the Nazarene in conversation with his friends.
What about the rest of us though? Who do our friends, family, neighbours and acquaintances say that we are? Does it matter? I’m not sure. Do we care? Well, I can only speak for myself and yes, I used to care very much indeed. I say ‘used to’ because I am happy to report that change is possible and that I am well on my way to leaving behind that dark place where I was at the mercy of whether or not others judged me acceptable/good/worthy/cool.
Modern living is complicated and relationships can be had in many different ways and all on different levels and sometimes on all these levels at once. We still have our traditional, for the most part face to face relationships with family, work colleagues and some close friends. We ‘do life’ with these people and the natural ups and downs are usually dealt with as we go along together. Then we have other relationships that are mostly facilitated by mobile technology and the world wide web. These relationships may be no less real or intense, they are just conducted differently. They are by their very nature ‘at a distance’ in the sense that you are not usually physically present together and can choose to respond or not, and in your own time. They have the capacity to be measured and edited rather than spontaneous which may or may not be considered an advantage. They may preoccupy, challenge and entertain us and in the case of social media like Facebook, they cater for life’s sharers and observers alike.
Facebook, now there’s a topic. I find it absolutely fascinating and as someone who for the last couple of years has made almost daily use of it as a tool to connect and share and learn and express myself, I have hugely mixed feelings about it. I think the only way I can understand the joys and sorrows of being on Facebook is that different people relate differently whether on or off screen. Unless you actually know someone in person, you could end up with a pretty skewed version of them if you only encountered them on Facebook. It can be a breeding ground for insecurities and resentments, we can, if we’re not very careful, be elated by, reduced to or be defined by 1) how many Friends (and I use the word advisedly) we have; 2) how many ‘likes’ we get for a status update; 3) how many people comment on our posts and what they say blah! blah! blah!
Possibly the worst thing about Facebook is that you have the capacity to play god in a universe of your own making. The potential for hurt and misunderstanding when you to refuse a Friend request or unfriend someone is matched only by the problematic pressure to accept everyone as a Friend. This may not be a problem at all, it just depends on what you are sharing. The fact remains, Facebook causes an unnatural and unrealistic levelling and compartmentalising of all our relationships where normally we would be closer to some people than others and share with them to a greater or lesser extent. It can highlight and heighten problems in relationships that might otherwise smooth over in the natural course of time and it can provide endless fodder for sneerers and a captive audience for over-sharers and boasters.
I don’t think it’s too cynical to say that the Facebook ‘police’ probably do not have OUR best interests at heart, they are mostly concerned with the success of Facebook. As a result it takes a very well-balanced and wise individual who can fully engage, enjoy and benefit from the experience and still come away unscathed. Only on my very best days can I seem to manage it. Avoiding it all is only one tactic for survival, such phenomena are here to stay I suspect, so the sooner we recognise the opportunities, and more importantly the limitations and make our peace with it, the better.