Yesterday, I removed the Facebook App from my cellphone. Life feels good. But it got me to wonder how it got to that place. I have a bit of a theory. I am sure there is a better name for it, but I will call it “The Poisoned Paradise Theory of Communication.”
The name comes from the following idea.
Suppose the Garden of Eden still existed. Perhaps it was discovered fully intact. I think most of us would know what would happen within 10 or 15 years of it being discovered. It would be flooded with tourists who would trample the vegetation, and litter it with plastic wrappers. The Tree of Life would be covered in spraypaint and the initials of people who wanted to “leave their mark.” Hotels, roads, shopping centers, and parking lots would replace much of the greenery. If paradise is not fully destroyed it would only be because a few people with power and money took it over, walled it off, and limited access to the few privileged (who would ruin it in their own ways).
Our tendency to destroy what we love, applies to communication as well. I won’t deal with all forms of mass communication, but here are a few obvious ones.
- Mail. Mail was and is such an amazing blessing. For a relatively small amount of money, I can send a piece of written piece of paper to someone almost anywhere in the world. In many places, it can be sent from one’s home and be delivered directly to one’s home. That is truly amazing. Of course, it got abused at times. Hate mail would get sent sometimes, as well as letter bombs, and chain mail, but they were not that common. However, what DID become common was junk mail. When I was young I was so excited to see the mailman stop at our mail box and I would hurry to the end of our driveway to pick up the daily mail. In more recent years junk mail became so common that getting the mail was a chore– something to go, collect, and quickly throw out 80% of it or more. It even got to the point that we moved a couple of times and I did not give the post office our forwarding address. I just told the few who needed to know where we moved to of the change.
- E-mail. E-mail was such a boon. Near instant communication, that was “free”— or at least no additional cost. A few years in, marketers started sending advertisements. At first there was a strong reaction against it. However, soon “SPAM” began dominating emails, to such an extent that special filters were built into the email apps to remove the most obvious junk emails. Since, sending out millions of emails is hardly more expenseive than sending out one email, SPAM became dominant… followed soon by SCAM. My Spam filter is flooded with “Dear Beloved” emails, Business Opportunity emails, and Lonely Heart emails. Most of these emails are so obviously fake that one is sickened by the fact that the scam is based on flooding the Internet in hopes of finding the most gullible and helpless. Things have gotten so bad that I have friends who really don’t use their email now much except for online user ID and verification.
- Messenger. This application, tied to Facebook, is like some other forms of instant messaging and groupchat, but this is the one I am most familiar with. At first glance, it seems like it has solved the problem with emails. Strangers can’t send you messages… or at least stranger messages automatically go to an electronic dustbin that one can glance in once in awhile. It seems as if SPAM would be solved since only friends can contact you through Messenger. But wouldn’t you know it… friends start sending SPAM. The least eggregious are the emojis and GIFs. Less tolerable are the chain letters, and junk articles and youtube videos that friends think should be shared with all their “friends.” Now, many of my friends immediately leave group chats after someone puts them in. Groupchats do appear to be the worst places for this. For mail and email I understand the motivation— money. People want money and so they screw up channels of communication in hopes of getting some of that sweet sweet cash. But messing up Messenger and other Instant Messaging services seems weird as most of that is not driven by money. Perhaps we simply like to mess up paradise.
- Twitter. I dropped out of Twitter some months ago as it seemed to be a place for a few people to talk almost incessantly, and the rest to get overfed with tweets from these garrulous folk and organizaitons. However, I never did figure out the appeal of Twitter in the first place so I won’t mention it here.
- Facebook. Facebook was such a blessing. It was like Myspace and many other of these personal blog sites, but where almost everyone I knew had an account. As such, it was such an easy way to maintain social connections. Living 12 timezones from home, it allowed me to maintain social interaction with so many from childhood, church, school, and more. People started sharing silly articles and videos with sensational clickbait-y titles. A lot were fake. I even knew some people who created these fake articles. Others would share quotes falsely attributed to famous people. Usually the quote was a generally positive one incorrectly connected to someone who has reached John Maxwell’s highest level of influence (adding false credibility to the statement). Later, false “bad” quotes were connected to respected people to try to tear those people down. False articles are shared that don’t stand up to even a quick fact check— usually to an echo chamber of people who love the article because of the sentiment, even if the information is untrue.
I have been distinctly disappointed at the number of Christians who have been doing this. One pastor shared a sensationalistic fear-article with a comment that said, “I don’t know if this is true, but it is too important to ignore.” Well, it took me about 15 seconds to verify that the article was not true. And since it is untrue, while pretending to be true, it is NOT too important to ignore. Another pastor would search out every anti-Muslim article he could find online and share them without balance and without fact-checking. Yet another pastor turned his FB page into a political campaign site for a political candidate over here in the Philippines.
It goes on. One pastor shared a picture of Pope Francis looking like he was angry with the caption to the effect of saying, “Reading the Bible is dangerous, Listen to me instead.” When that pastor was told that the source of that semi-quote pointed to Pope Francis actually saying the opposite– Read the Bible it is powerful and important– the pastor defended sharing this completely deceptive lie. This is similar to still another pastor.who shared COVID-19 statistics in late May to show that we are making a big deal about nothing. The problem was that the data was over 2 months out of date, and so gave a completely false impression of the scope of the problem. He also defended his use of the data, despite the fact that his argument was completely undermined by the use of highly deceptive data.
I can deal with that. I can also deal with people who are a bit more clever. They will share articles from sketchy sources, adding a comment like, “Interesting read.” This seems to be a form of plausible deniability because one can find opinions and made-up news reports “interesting.” However, over time one discovers that that person only finds articles that support a specific agenda as being interesting. I suppose that if one found dubious reports from both sides interesting plausible deniability would be justified. But if one only chooses one side, that is no longer the case. I can handle these wastes of time as well.
My children basically stopped using FB, except for Messenger years ago. Most of their friends have as well. I refused to leave FB because I am a missionary and the value it has in connecting me to supporters and people back home in the US seemed to be too big to let go of. But over time, I have changed my mind. Fewer and fewer of my supporters use FB much. Most of them I can reach in other ways. Some don’t use it at all. And there has been a big increase in fearmongery and hatemongery on FB. The strongest comments I ever got against myself was when I suggested that diverse perpectives are good. I would love to say that it is not my FB friends who are doing this. And MOSTLY I can say that. Most of the really horrible, hateful, false, demeaning, un-Christian stuff are from Friends of Friends. FB in the US in particular has become the home of trolls and flamers. Even those that seem to be a voice of reason tend to be electronically surrounded by hoardes of nasty people ready to hit and hurt as they have opportunity. It is not just on one side. Politically for example, I tend to be a Moderate-Conservative-Libertarian type. Most of my friends in the US tend towards being more Conservative-Authoritarian. A lot of hate speech there. But I have some friends on the Liberal/Progressive side as well– some of whom get pretty vicious at times as well.
And that is fine I suppose. But it concerns me that so many of these people describe themselves as Christians. Much of their conversations are so far outside of the example of Jesus, that it would be nice if they simply did not say or suggest that they are Christian or that their words come from any corner of Christianity.
Anyway, I decided to leave FB. I will still keep my account open. I may have to go on once a week to post for our local church. I won’t leave email— my spam filters are generally keeping up with the torrent of SPAM and SCAM. But I don’t expect you to care about any of this. I don’t expect you to care if I have left Twitter and FB, and I am certainly not asking you to leave them or any other online communication service.
I would, however, like to ask you why we tend to poison paradise. I believe saying that we are sinners is inadequate. I suppose one could take the point further and say that Sin is ultimately a breaking of harmony and relationships. Therefore when we are given a tool that helps us connect to more people more easily, we revolt against that by pushing back with fear (and its secondary emotion, anger).
Additionally, I suppose it could be argued that if 90% of us can be civil with each other, then 10% cannot. And if these 10% have access to the same communication streams with the 90%, they are likely to mess things up pretty bad. Maybe as a species we feel that we must destroy what we love.
As Christians, not only do I think we have the ability to do better, we are called by God to do better. We can express love and hope to our friends, relatives, strangers, and enemies.