Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Handling Facebook

Well, this post started out as a "comment" to a friend's Facebook post, but it was just getting way too long and philosophical for that venue, so I've moved it here.  It was in response to her announcement that she was taking a three-month break from Facebook, starting tomorrow, because she's been "convicted about being addicted to Facebook and the fact that it's becoming an idol in (her) life."  If this post seems a little like I'm talking to you directly, it is because I am writing with a desire to address this particular friend and her struggle.  (It is also particularly timely, in that I have just recently--reluctantly--allowed my 14-year-old son get his own Facebook account.  I am always seeking to help both him and his 16-year-old sister to navigate this world of electronic communication and social networking with responsibility and wisdom.)

First of all, far be it from me to ever step in the path of someone who is genuinely feeling convicted about the need to cease something, and then try to talk them into continuing it!  So, if you are truly feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit in some arena (including this one), and the Lord is telling you that it is time for you to stop doing something (even if it is something permissible and fine, biblically), then you should stop doing it.  Period.

BUT, [as Pee-wee Herman used to say, "Everybody's got a big 'but'..."], if you are just feeling godly disappointment in the fact that Facebook (or watching television, or playing video games, or surfing the web, or one of any number of other potentially addictive things of this nature) has somehow come to take up too much of your time and affections--and you don't quite know how to get a handle it or what to do about it, so you're just quitting cold turkey out of desperation--then I offer the following thoughts.

(And know that I do so very reluctantly, because I do agree that our spending time with machines instead of with people--and, even more significantly, with the Lord--is a major problem facing all of us alive today.  Most all of us could use less "electronics times" than we currently allow ourselves!  [See this post for my thoughts--and some sobering statistics--about this problem.]  That said, however...)

It is a fact--and I am accepting this reluctantly, I might add--that social networking sites like Facebook (and texting, which--grrrr---isn't free!) are the primary ways in which younger generations are communicating these days.  I'm not sure how or when we got to the place where calling on a cell phone (let alone a landline!) or sending an email (let alone postal mail!) were passé forms of keeping in touch, but we're there. Of course they're still in use, but they are not the primary way that Generation Y keeps in touch.  Younger folks don't know how to "do relationship" in deep, meaningful, face-to-face ways, until they encounter it and learn it from some folks who have already learned it, committed to it, and shared it.  I have young friends who tell me that their peers are upset with them if they call rather than text to invite them somewhere--their friends don't want to have to respond to the invitation "live" on the phone (let alone in person!).  Is this resulting in people who don't know how to do relationship very well?  Absolutely!  But that is where we are, and we have to learn to make concerted efforts to join with the trend in redemptive ways

So, if your Facebook habits and affections have gotten out of proportion to what constitutes healthy time management--or if you just want to ensure that they never do--perhaps some self-control parameters are in order.  You can take it or leave it, or modify it to suit your life, but here's what I do to keep it--Facebook specifically--manageable in my life.

First of all, if spending too much time in chat has been--or you think it will be--a problem for you, turn it off.  Under options, "go offline."  This will keep you from getting sucked into conversations with people who are just killing time when you don't have time to kill.  If they really want to talk to you, they'll contact you some other way.

Second, if gaming has been a problem for you--or if you fear it might become one--turn it off.  I never got caught up in Facebook gaming, but--if the notifications I read when I'm in Facebook are any indication--many a friend has gotten very caught up in Farmville and Mafia Wars and the like!  If this has become problematic for you, time-wise, turn it off, or at least turn off notifications about the game, which will keep you from being forced into dealing with it unless you've specifically chosen to get online in order to play Facebook games for a few minutes.  Then you can deal with whatever has transpired since your last time playing.

After those two basic things have been taken care of--really only helpful if chatting and gaming, specifically, have been problems for you--then you get to the main strategies for handling Facebook time management.  First, be sure you're signed up to receive notifications of all Facebook activity and correspondence at your email account.  Then, choose only to get on Facebook when you get notice of something.  This takes away the obsessive feeling that sometimes develops--like you have to "know everything" and "keep up with all the news" about everyone--by keeping you off of Facebook most of the time.  Being on there a lot is what feeds the need to be on there even more... that itching feeling you develop to "check and see what's happening" with everyone.  (Young people especially--by which I mean anyone between the ages of about 12 to 35--seem to have a major problem with this aspect of things: the constant need for the moment-by-moment notifications that beep on their smartphones...)

Next, when you get there--and remember, you've only gotten onto Facebook because you've gotten an email notification about something needing your attention--then allow yourself to read one page of "top news" (the page you landed on) and one page of "most recent" posts.  Don't allow yourself to click to "older posts" in either venue.  Yes, you will "miss" a lot of things--I have missed finding out that a distant friend had a baby until the kid was like two or something!--but most of the important things will get through. That takes less than one minute to accomplish, and it is a built-in time limit.

After you do that, quickly handle whatever situation it was that brought you to Facebook in the first place.  Reply to the note, answer the friend request, look at the tagged photo--whatever thing it was you received the email notification about--and then get off.  You've already read your two allowable pages of notices and updates.  You're done.  You will have spent less than five minutes doing all of this.  Now get on with life.

For the other stuff--if you choose to allow yourself to go beyond the above parameters--impose "limits" like you will likely one day have to do with your kids.  For example, "I will spend only XX minutes a day browsing Facebook."  (You decide what's reasonable.  For my kids who have Facebook, it is 20 minutes--and only if all their work and chores are done first!)  A word to the wise: set a timer for this, or you'll lose track of time!  And the timer keeps it deliberate.  When you cross out of the limiting parameters stated above, only do so with full intention, and with the accountability of your timer.)  Another option: "I will only allow Facebook on weekends," and only for a certain amount of predetermined time.  (For our family, this is never more than an hour, and we're not like clockwork with it, either!)

Of course, you know yourself, so if you're really having trouble with it, and it isn't edifying in any way, by all means--just like anything else in your life like this--stop it!  [We don't watch TV for these reasons.]

But I am struck by the fact that in just the last week, my friend who is considering quitting Facebook would have missed the blessing of receiving the gift of a camera if she hadn't had it.  (And it is interesting to note that the friend who had discovered her lack of one--and was blessed to be able to give her this gift--found out about the need on Facebook, even while living within the above-mentioned limiting parameters and restrictions regarding its use.)

When I got on Facebook this morning, in response to a notification that I'd been tagged in a photo, I read my one page of "top news."  On it, I saw a quick comment from this friend who is considering quitting Facebook, on the Wall of a mutual friend who is in the hospital, that she was praying for her.  If she hadn't had Facebook, she wouldn't have known of our friend's hospitalization, and she would not have been praying.    [Of course, I recognize the fact that--using these parameters I've suggested--any of us might not have found out about x, y, or z on any given day.  That's okay.  We are not going to be able to know about everything that happens in the lives of hundreds of people, and still manage our own!!]

My suggestion in this regard: pray about it.  Yes, pray about Facebook!  And I don't just mean about the decisions regarding the parameters you'll put in place for its use, either.  I mean about each individual Facebook experience.

Before you get on--for anything outside the first parameters mentioned above, such as browsing around status updates using the "time limit" approach--pray that the Lord would bless your time there, and that He would use it to bless you and others in relationship.  He will lead you to the things you need to see, and it can be a rich time, relationally.

This practice of mine is similar to the practice of the "yard sale prayer list," which I've employed for many years now.  When we really need/want something, but it is just too expensive to go out and buy, I will mentally put it on my "yard sale prayer list" and ask the Lord to provide it in some other way.  I have literally furnished our home, clothed my family, and provided for our life in this way.  He ALWAYS provides the things I pray for in this way in some astonishing, very-cheap-to-free sort of ways: sometimes someone gives it to us; sometimes I find it at a yard sale, or a thrift store, or an amazing retail sale.

At any rate, He can do the same for your Facebook time, if you will take it to Him.  I ask Him to--and firmly believe that He does--lead me to just the things I need to see and know about on Facebook, whenever I go on.  I also ask Him to keep me from the things I shouldn't know about, things that might negatively affect my opinion of someone or lead me to some unfair conclusions about them.  And He directs me in how--and when, and if--to respond with my time in relationship with the things I find there.

So, if you can bring yourself to exercise self-discipline in its use, I do believe that Facebook can be a wonderful tool the Lord uses to bless you, and to bless others through you.  Like most things, however, it can also be a strangling noose around your spiritual neck--if not properly controlled and curtailed--and so I pray for great wisdom and discernment for you (as I do for myself and for my children) as you follow the Lord's leading in its use.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

I LOVE this blog! I'm Rachel's aunt and was thinking the same thing she was about taking a facebook break. I never really liked facebook when I first got on it, and HATE all of the bugs on it. Very frustrating! :) But, it seems to be the only way to keep in touch with folks that are scattered all over the place. I just felt overwhelmed by it all.
I really appreciate you giving me a dose of perspective on this and some ideas for getting it under control. I want it to be a blessing and not a curse in my life, as well as those I stay in touch with. Great Blog! :)