This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 33, number 03 (2010). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
I caught your attention with my title, but the point of this editorial is not that we should always say no to Facebook and other social media. If that were my point, then I would be a hypocrite. I’ve had a Facebook account since January 2008 and, while I’m not a daily user of Facebook, there are spurts where I make heavy use of it.
For example, last night I used Facebook to make contact with someone whom I haven’t heard from in thirty-five years! This morning I also used Facebook to send condolences to second cousins of mine whose father died yesterday. I also scanned my Facebook “news feed” this morning to find out what is going on with my “friends” and what current events they think are worthy of discussion. Additionally, I hope to find the time soon to upload pictures from CRI’s Caribbean cruise for my Facebook friends to enjoy. Facebook has all these uses and more, including ministry and evangelistic ones, as Douglas Groothuis notes in this issue’s article, “Understanding Social Media” (p. 18).
The point of this editorial is rather that we should learn when to say no to Facebook and other social media. On an Internet page devoted to Facebook addiction, the following desperate posts attest to the deteriorating affects Facebook overuse can have on study and work habits (not to mention writing and spelling ability!):1
Oh my goodness, i hope this works, i am seriosuly addicted, facebook is all i do these days. Sleep, eat and Facebook, which is terrible because i have so many exams that i need to be concentrating on.
I REALLY wannaa quit facebook, buti just can’t. I used to be a straight A student but now all i doo iss comee back from school, check facebook, sign on msn, sleep, then facebook again then dinner then bed time! Plus ivee got my IG exams this year and i think im failing. PLZ HELP MEE!
Im crazy addicted to facebook. it’s interfering with my job….i check it 6 times an hour i would say, and i think about checking it when i am in places where i cannot check it, and it feels so good to check it when I haven’t for a couple of hours….i check it first thing when i wake up….and i just realized how rediculous this is…i mean i really want to stop it. I don’t want to delete my account as i would lose touch with people, but i wish i could use it in a way that isn’t so obsessive. I have actually mentally stated that i will not check my facebook, and then without even realizing it….im typing facebook.com into my browser, and going DOH!!!!! It’s such a nasty little habit/addiction. If anyone has gone through this and is now got it under control email me please.
I’ve heard less extreme confessions of Facebook addiction from people I personally know. While I have not experienced a compulsion to log onto Facebook frequently, I do understand its allurement. Like the rest of the World Wide Web, Facebook is open-ended. There is no limit to information you can read, pictures you can view, fan pages you can visit, and so forth. Additionally, on Facebook you can be the star, adding as much information and uploading as many photos and videos about yourself as you please. It all may be trivial, but that can be part of its appeal, offering an escape from the drudgery and difficulties that may otherwise fill your day.
Now, I believe in the therapeutic value of occasional diversions-a time in the day or week where we can feel free to unwind and recharge with something fun or entertaining, such as fiction, music, or some outdoor activity. If someone uses Facebook or other social media wholesomely for that purpose, I see no problem with it. But when Facebook use starts spilling into time that should be reserved for more important ends, then there is a problem, and the first step to correcting a problem is recognizing it.
Scripture exhorts us to make the most of our time, “because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). It also admonishes us, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23). If we habitually say yes to Facebook or other trivial Internet pursuits at times when we should be tending to such responsibilities as work, study, devotions, church, ministry, quality time with family, and household maintenance, then we will eventually have to give account to God for our poor stewardship of the time and resources He has given us (2 Cor. 5:10). If we are prone to addictive or obsessive-compulsive behavior, we could find ourselves in a vicious circle of seeking relief through Facebook from an increasingly depressing situation created by overuse of Facebook, perhaps crying out to strangers on the Internet, “PLZ help me!”
Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It does not consist in isolating ourselves from all influences of the world, as the desert monks of the ancient church did, but rather in learning on a moment-by-moment basis when to say no to those influences. As the apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, God has given us the things of this world to use and enjoy, but at the same time He has given us to Christ (3:22-23), and so we are not our own (6:19). Therefore, the glory of God must be the key criteria for all our behavior (6:20; 10:31).
It’s a question of service: does our use of Facebook serve our best interests and those of the Kingdom and glory of God, or does it bring our minds and time under servitude to Facebook itself, at the expense of those higher interests? If you find the latter becoming the case, then I suggest going on a “Facebook fast” for as long as it takes to break its power over you. Only resume use for as long as you are able to retain your self-control. This is a guiding principle I have found effective in keeping my liberty to use the things of this world from deteriorating into a slavery to those things that compromises my true liberty in Christ. In this way we can stand in the good company of Paul, who declared: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).
1. See “How to Stop That Facebook Addiction,” All Facebook: The Unofficial Facebook Resource, http://www.allfacebook.com/2007/10/how-to-stop-thatfacebook-addiction/.