Book reviews

A difficult level read

The Church of Facebook: how the hyperconnected are redefining community

By Sam Allberry

The book is divided into five short chapters. Rice considers how Facebook can have  pulled hundreds of millions of people into using the service in its first 5 years. He argues that the key driver for Facebook’s explosive expansion is directly related to our desperate need for connection. ‘In connection we find comfort and safety… without it we fall to pieces. Our physical, emotional and cognitive powers weaken significantly’. Facebook resonates so strongly with us because it manages to imitate our ‘preferred environment’, our home, in the online world. We are able to ‘keep all the stuff that matters to us’ on our customisable home pages, giving evidence of our values and beliefs to our friends, we can continually ‘meet with’ our friends and family and we have a sense of control over our involvement. The goals of Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Facebook corporation is to build a universal system where people will live their digital lives.

Rice then investigates the new and unexpected outcomes of the social-networking habits that we have developed. Some of these habits are good, and some are bad – surely an expected outcome when our fallen humanity collides with human-created technology. He touches on the revealing nature of the self-portraits that we create through our pages and interactions. He briefly investigates the negative effect that continual connection has on our ability to sustain real relationships, and concentrate upon what is in front of us, in the ‘real’ world. He discusses how we need offline community (real community) to satisfy needs we attempt
to meet in our online communities. This emphasis helpfully exposes the way technology excludes as many as it includes: in this case, those who cannot own or master computer technology, such as the poor, the aged and those with many forms of disability. Rice finally considers how we adapt to Facebook, ending with some practical tips on how to practise ‘intentionality’, ‘humility’ and
‘authenticity’ in our Facebooking.

Theology:
The book is let down by its very minimal scriptural and theological arguments: for example, although ‘church’ is in the title, Rice makes no attempt to discern how the Bible’s teaching on how to be a social person might affect our online presence. This is a strange oversight. His other (few) mentions of the Bible are somewhat helpful, as far as they go.

Tone and style:
The Church of Facebook is very readable. The style is chatty, with many interesting stories and illustrations peppered throughout. Practical uses: This is a good book to put in the hands of any person keen to think more about social media – particularly those who might be new to Facebook.

Published in 2009, it will date quickly. However its concerns are broader than the technical aspects of Facebook, and so the book will remain helpful. It would be appropriate for any person who wants to better understand our desires for connections and intimacy, our need to belong and our identity, and how they play out online. It will encourage readers to pursue meaningful and authentic relationships online (although it potentially falls short of encouraging people of the need to focus greater attention on the face-to-face relationships in our ‘real’ world). l

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