Will you be my Facebook friend? Social Media and the Gospel
Tim Chester, Will you be my Facebook Friend?, 10Publishing, 2013, 48pp
Tim Chester’s “Will you be my facebook friend? – social media and the Gospel” is clearly designed for people who use social media a lot. Apart from the social media icons on the cover, it is so short that you can probably hold the urge to check facebook again until you finish it.
Chester starts by pointing out that social media such as Facebook can be really useful. They help us to keep up friends and family members who are physically far away from, and sometimes even facilitate the spreading of the Gospel to places traditionally hard to reach. However, he focuses more on the pitfalls of facebook and highlights two main ones.
Firstly, he points out that Facebook allows us to control what we want to show and hide from people. Often we only show the successful and bright side or dramatize trivial events in our lives to get that extra like or comment from our friends. With facebook, we recreate an image for ourselves to justify ourselves and gain approval from others. Chester reminds his readers that we can never justify ourselves, but Jesus justifies and creates us in God’s image.
Secondly, he argues that Facebook distracts us from real-world friendship as it offers intimacy without responsibility. Facebook allows us to talk to people we may never talk to in real life but only do so when we are hiding behind a screen. The result is that we escape from the difficulties of real-world friendship are only capable of forming superficial ones.
While I think Chester has presented some problems of Facebook that could be real struggles to some people, I felt that he has left out a big one, the one that I struggled with the most. Unlike the cases of constantly “fine-tuning” one’s online image Chester discusses in his book, I seldom even take photos, let alone upload them onto Facebook. I do not update my status very often either.I also share Chester’s view that it may not be the best thing to only say things when you are behind a screen. Yet, I have to admit that I used to pull out my phone to check Facebook whenever I could, such as when I was waiting for the lift, or waiting for my friend to come out from the toilet. I was surprised that Chester has alluded to my problem quite a few times but has not gone deeper. He writes that when people feel miserable, they go on facebook, only to see how happy their friends appear in the photos and feel more miserable. But he has not looked into why. I recently read a mainstream article underlining how nobody checks facebook when they are satisfied with life, or when they are hanging out with good friends or family. Then I realised I always checked facebook to get inspiration to make my life more exciting. I tried to see what cool things my friends were doing and believed the gospel of facebook that if I could do the same cool things, my life would stop being mundane and unfulfilling. Yet that would only make me feel more miserable as I knew I would never be able to do some of those things, and I was constantly urged to take my eyes off the true source of approval, satisfaction and joy.
Although Chester has not touched on this, his conclusion is extremely applicable to my situation. At the end of the book, he observes that the numerous things we read on Facebook are so trivial and insignificant that we are bound to forget them in a week’s time, if not (way) shorter, without any lasting consequence. However, if we consider the “Facebook” of God, the Gospel/ the Bible (which contains his word that stands forever by contrast), and how much sweeter it is to know God the creator, and better to rest in the image and justification Jesus gives, instead of struggling to establish our own, it becomes much easier for us loosen our grip on the Facebook addiction and replace that with something superior, which is a real relationship with God.