Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Facebook Attachment Disorder

The shower, for many creative types, is an amazing and amusing incubator for ideas. Today while washing my hair, a repetitive, rhythmic motion that frees the creative right brain while the logical left brain is distracted, the words Facebook Attachment Disorder popped into my head. Inventing disorders appears to be an American pastime, so here is my contribution.

Typically an attachment disorder refers to the failure to form normal relationships. For example, the failure of a neglected infant to form human attachments due a lack of nurturing leads to psychological and emotional instability and the inability to love or to receive love. In the case of Facebook, I was thinking in the opposite direction--that people become overly attached to the social network.

But the more I think about it, the more I see a dual phenomenon. People are extremely attached, as in addicted, to the online interaction. We are invested in how many comments what we post generates and how many "likes" we do or don't receive. We rely upon the network to confirm our popularity and depend upon it for feelings of acceptance. Think about it. How many times have you seen those whiny posts in your news feed with someone using emotionally manipulative language about how most of their "friends" scroll on by them, but the people who really care about them will show the demanded proof? Too many to count? I don't take kindly to threats, which is what that really is, similar to a chain letter. So I scroll on by, proving myself an unworthy "friend".

The other side of the coin is closer to the meaning of attachment disorder. We are increasingly isolated and less connected in meaningful ways to people while living under the illusion of true communication. Time wasted on Facebook and similar online activities is time that could be spent with the people under your own roof, or with friends, or even just out in your community talking to people at the library, drug store, and post office. We could be visiting someone in a nursing home, feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen, praying and meditating, taking a walk and appreciating the hand of God in creation, baking a pie, or writing the great American novel. Instead we are googling and scrolling and playing video games, asking strangers for the truth and robbing ourselves of what can be touched, tasted, smelled, and seen. We have lost our voices, and we don't hear each other any more, either literally or figuratively.

I haven't found that Facebook enhances any of my real life relationships. Many times it has hurt and even destroyed them. I acknowledge its convenience and benefits, but is the dark side of the coin worth it? I have started and joined groups and have been very disappointed in the lack of mutual participation and response. I have been dismayed at the ignoring of boundaries and the runaway train effect of some conversations. We are losing the ability to be polite, charitable, thoughtful, and truly present. We have become tone deaf. We are living in a fantasy world.

Look at the technology trail. From radio, to television, to computer--the personal interaction becomes more and more distant in the home. From speaking on a telephone to texting, from hand written letters to email to snippets of words floating around the technosphere. From going to a live play to sitting in a movie theater to running out to the video store to watching movies on Netflix. The path always leads further away from personal interaction, from immanence. We are sterilizing ourselves.

If someone in my family is in the hospital, I want to receive a phone call. If a friend invites me to a party, I want to get an invitation in the mail. I want to feel known and that I personally matter. When I first started blog writing, a few people who knew me in the real world were offended by something I wrote. My intentions were completely misunderstood, another example of the tone deaf internet. Yet they could have called me on the phone to ask me if they understood me correctly. Some could literally have driven to my house in less than 5 minutes. But the disconnection of the ironic "social network" had already taken hold. I was no longer a living, breathing human being that they loved. I was dehumanized and instantly attacked in the public sphere of Facebook, rather than being addressed in the private counsel that Scripture admonishes us to keep. And at times I have also fallen prey to this temptation of instant gratification. Facebook is, for many, a near occasion for sin.

I think I need to "go in peace and sin no more", as we hear in church on Ash Wednesday. I like being able to share links to my blog on Facebook and to get a glimpse into the lives of long distance friends, but I think the price might be too high to pay. I have trouble tearing my eyes away from the computer when my child is standing right in front of me. Well, this can also happen when an adult is reading a newspaper, but somehow the attachment is not so strong. One doesn't so easily get caught up in the current of soupy images and words. On Facebook, we drown in it.

And it goes even deeper. If you are a woman, you are more likely to be silenced, even by other women. I said shut up, I said shut up, oh why don't you keep it down? Voices carry...

That's why I write this blog. Try as they might, no one can silence me here. I can use the technology at my fingertips to serve God, to reach out, to express my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and inner longings, and only those who choose to come here share in my journey. Sure, Facebook could be used to evangelize and the attempts toward this are made, but by and far, its interests aren't in spreading the Good News. Its desire isn't for deep and meaningful conversation. The forum itself simply isn't set up that way. The creator of Facebook was himself antisocial!

Facebook isn't conducive to sustaining the poetic and philosophical. There isn't the space. There are too many voices, all flying in the ether, with no time for reflection and contemplation. Either that, or the human soul is losing its capacity for art, for music, for the intimacy of the Beloved. Perhaps we prefer not to plunge our hands into the soil. We can keep a sanitary distance, attached to our addiction but detached from physical touch and spiritual companionship. And yet, occasionally, the divine Presence breaks through, and there is a smile, a kind word, a brilliant thought, a shimmering light. At this moment, I don't know if I will stay or go.

So I will share this post to Facebook, to my personal page and to my groups. I will extend the invitation to be real and present, but I will let go of the attachment to the response. And then, with divine help, I'll let go of the illusion.

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