Vanity Book

“Last week,” quote I to Joseph, “my wife and I told our thirteen-year-old daughter she could join Facebook. Within a few hours she had accumulated 171 friends, and I felt a little as if I had passed my child a pipe of crystal meth. So says Bill Keller in The New York Times.”

“I’m sorry,” said Joseph looking up from his smartphone, “what did you say?”

“Oh, nothing” I replied. Joseph returned to his smartphone.

“Did you know,” I tried again, “that most young people don’t use email.” No response.

“I suppose it’s because they prefer writing letters.” No response.

“Would you like a million dollars?”

“What?” he laughed, “no, they’ve got Facebook. They don’t need email.”

“Hmmm,” I said, “I thought that Facebook was public. How can you communicate privately with a friend when everybody else is listening in?”

“Everybody’s your friend!” replied Joseph. “Look, the average Facebook person has 229 friends. The whole buzz of the thing is that nothing is private. When you tell your friend something, everybody can see it, you show everybody your photographs. If they like them, if they like you, then they ‘like’ you and you feel good.”

“What happens if they don’t like you?”

“Well, you feel bad, I suppose.”

“I might be wrong,” I said, “no, I’m not wrong. That leads down a straight path to human respect and pride. First of all, you can’t possibly have 229 real friends. If you’re going to say everything in front of so many people, you have to be a crowd pleaser and only then can you brag: ‘I’ve got more friends than you have. My friends like me.’ Who cares if people like you as long as you’re doing what’s right? You need to do what is right because it’s right, not because people like it or dislike it - that’s human respect.”

“But, maybe,” said Joe, “all my friends are good people.”

“Are they?” I said, “they never post any dodgy stuff?”

“Well, not that often…”

“And you never change your communication based on the fact that 229 people are watching you”

“Well...”

“Can you get the Imitation of Christ, Book I, Chapter 8 on that thing?

“But,” said Joseph, not giving up so easily, “Facebook is good! It’s a way of keeping in contact with friends and family. Is that not good? I know what it is - you’re against technology!”

Of course, my cellphone would have to ring at just the wrong time. “Sorry,” I said to Joseph, “because I’m against technology, I’ll just turn off my phone.” I looked
around to see if I could find my copy of The Fallacy Detective; failing to find it I started off as best I could.

“Joseph, technology is a red herring. In fact, it’s what detective story buffs call a ‘McGuffin’ - a mechanical element in a crime, the gun that they keep talking about but which actually doesn’t have anything to do with it. Of course, it’s a good thing to keep in contact with friends and family but Facebook is not the only way - in fact Facebook is a bad way. It’s a very good thing to relax now and again, taking a drink is a way of relaxing, but if you are a bus driver on your coffee break, a glass of whiskey is not a good way to relax.”

“So, I was right,” he said, “you don’t want me to keep in contact.”

“Technology in itself,” I continued, ignoring him, is neither good nor bad. Something else makes using it good or bad. That may be its content - that technology we call a book is bad when the book glorifies sin. In Facebook’s case, it may be its content - when people glorify sin, it is certainly its culture. There is nothing wrong with movies in themselves. But you couldn’t live and work in Hollywood. The culture of it is bad. Let me give you a history lesson.”

“Here we go,” he sighed, but listened all the same.

“In 1967 was the ‘Summer of Love.’ Strangers came together to pretend that they were close friends. They started intimately sharing their lives with complete strangers. All they were really doing was saying to each other: ‘Love me, because I like the feeling of being loved.’ That is bad love - it’s the sort of love that ends when the other person offends me, the sort of love that is jealous because ‘you didn’t “like” my post.’ It certainly is not true love.”

“So, what has this got to do with Facebook?”

“Work it out - what’s the whole thing about Facebook? - Everything has to be shown to everybody. I have to show off so that people can like me. Narcissism.”

“Whaaat?”

“Narcissus fell in love with himself because he was so handsome. Facebook says everybody should like me because I’m so cool. That’s vanity and human respect.”
Joseph was silent for a while. I began to see if I could remember the Imitation, I, 8. All I could remember was this quote: “Remember always this proverb: the eye is not filled with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.”

 

Fr. David Sherry.