PORTLAND, Ore. — When it
comes to Facebook, Jesse Rice sees an immensely popular social networking site
that’s great for sharing photos and keeping in touch with friends.
He also sees something that
encourages attitudes and behaviors that don’t work as well in real life.
Rice, 37, is the author of
The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community. A
former worship leader an evangelical megachurch in California, he has degrees
in organizational communication and counseling/psychology and — just as
important to his readers — a sense of humor.
On a video he uploaded to
YouTube, he explains his credentials for writing the book. “I can look at
various parts of an organization, at the flow of communication back and forth
within the independent structure, and I can identify all the ways that it’s
your parents’ fault,” he quips.
And “I have an actual
Facebook account with well over 100 friends.” Yes, he acknowledges that some
people have 6 million fans on a Facebook fan page.
“But, back off, Vin Diesel,”
he snarls. “It is possible to be too fast and too furious.”
Actually, being too fast to
judge others and too furious to write a well-considered post are two ways
Facebook thwarts meaningful community, according to Rice, who argues that
Facebook redefines the term altogether.
“Our definition of community
has shifted,” he says. “Now it’s a continuum, with 10 being your best friend
and 1 being people you just sort of bump into online. But it’s all community.”
Facebook has its bashers,
especially in Christian circles. While some believers say they find genuine
community online, others insist that face-to-face interaction is essential to a
life of faith.
Some users find satisfaction in building and sharing their
profiles, but others worry that Facebook breeds an all-about-me attitude and is
eroding the capacity to listen and empathize.
In broad strokes and funny
asides, Rice creates a context for Facebook and connects it to Christian
experience. It’s too early to tell how the book will do, Pape says, but sales
have surpassed 5,000 copies and the publisher’s preparing a second printing.
Rice, who admits he had an
early crush on Facebook, says he and the social networking site are just living
together now, although he expects the relationship to last. Launched in 2004,
Facebook has more than 350 million users, and more are joining all the time.
“Facebook has become part of
our lives,” he says. “And we’re just beginning to learn how to be human in it.
Rice has seen people give up
on “embodied relationships” because they feel freer on Facebook. “People do
argue that there’s a richness to relationships online,” he says. But it could
be that they don’t know what they’re missing. “We don’t feel that hunger
Rice figures his readers —
he also blogs at http://churchoffacebook.com —
are mostly pastors and parents wondering how Facebook fits into the lives of
people they care about.
In a little more than 200
pages, Rice recounts the brief history of Facebook and compares it to other
technological achievements that have transformed modern life: Air conditioning,
for example, changed where and how Americans lived, ate, worked and spent their
leisure time. Facebook shows signs of doing the same.
But Rice draws on his
counseling experience to argue that prolonged hyperconnectivity shortens
attention spans; that fear of missing out tethers people to technology and
undermines their sense of control; that creating a Facebook profile turns some
people into celebrities and their friends into an entourage or audience.
While he still has concerns,
Rice says Facebook in many ways is just the latest version of an age-old
“Whatever technology that’s
in front of us always challenges us,” he says. “Our parents thought we listened
to the radio too much.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Haught
writes for The Oregonian.)