And then there was Facebook

What would life in biblical times have been like if the social network existed then?

December 2, 2010 00:48
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

What would it have been like had there been Facebook at the beginning of time? The first three things God would have put in His status: “Just created the world.”

Then, “Whoops forgot there’s no one else out there. Gonna create man.”

Then probably something like, “Why on earth did I do that?” Underneath which it’ll say, “Snake likes this.”

God would have sent a message to Noah: “Bringing a flood next week.”

Noah would have responded with something like: “Lol. Bring it on.”

And I suspect the story of Joseph and his brothers would have panned out altogether different. Rather than selling him down to Egypt, Joseph would have put on his status: “Had another dream about my brothers last night.”

The oldest brother Reuben would have replied: “ROFL” (rolling on floor laughing for technophobes). Simon, the second and more hot-tempered brother, would have responded: “Gonna teach you and your technicolor dream coat a lesson.”

Under which it would say, “Andrew Lloyd Webber likes this.”

What of our forefathers? How would they relate to the idea of Facebook? As they spent their lives reaching out to as many people as possible – looking to make a real difference to their world – would modern technology have helped them to further their cause? I think they would have made tremendous use of, current haredi opinion notwithstanding; but social networking? I think they would have despised it.

The definition of a friend used to be someone whom you actually knew and genuinely cared about. Today so many of our friendships are little more than a picture upload, a status update, a comment or a virtual poke.

Barack Obama has 15 million Facebook friends, but I wonder whether in fact there are even 15 people with whom he actually shares a personal relationship. Perhaps most telling is the one man who has more friends on Facebook than anyone else. Michael Jackson, a man with more than 21 million friends, is not even living.

THE REAL issue is that this is not just a Facebook phenomenon.

It is a more far-reaching worry that is endemic in our modern society. No one likes to get upfront and personal, and technology has facilitated a way to avoid the warmth and intimacy and become emotionally stunted in the process.

Don’t we smile inwardly when we get an answering machine rather than having to speak to a person? And how often do we avoid calling someone simply by sending a text and an e-mail? “Words that come from the heart penetrate the heart.”

That is to say, when I express to you the sentiment that is in my heart, you’ll feel it too. A few clicks and keystrokes are hardly going to impact someone else emotionally.

That part of you that is genuinely concerned about another has to reach out in a very real and tangible way.

There are over 300 million people just on Facebook who share some form of online social connection. All those cyber friends disappear at the click of a mouse. But on average, people have only five really close friends and those are face to face. They’re always there even when your life’s screen might go dark. Or as someone once put it: “Lots of friends will ride with you in the limo. But what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Our forefathers were committed to the ideals of friendship, selfless kindness and deeply committed relationships.

They knew that when you truly care about another, you have to be there hands on for the other. Only by being there in person can you reach through the heart and touch someone’s soul. They would have abhorred the superficial connections that are generated in our modern society.

WHEN PEOPLE fall out for a lifetime, when a family broiges lingers for years, when we look at our world today with the staggering statistics as we know them it’s because we’re sorely missing these real relationships.

When someone I know posts on Facebook about the loss of a near relative, and she gets virtual condolences from people who all live within close proximity, you know something is wrong. When you see increasing people you know going wanting emotionally, it’s because they probably have Facebook friends more so than real ones. And with the rapid-paced advance of technology, it certainly begs the question “what will the friend of the future be?” If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – real relationships, direct communication, true friendships. That’s the way our ancestors did it in the past and that’s the only way we should be doing it for the future.

I’m not naive enough to think that we can reverse the trend. With laptops and smartphones making up part of every child’s daily technutrition, social networking is here to stay. But as responsible parents, we can certainly control the amount of intake. I think every home should institute a Facebook free time zone. At the very least two hours each evening, say from six till eight, so that rather than walking in from school and signing on immediately to talk to their BFF (best friend forever) who they just saw on the bus, they simply spend the time with their CLP (caring loving parents) talking about their day. Even more ideal would be one day on the weekend. Twenty-five hours of no social networking would compel children to venture out of their rooms and face the real world.

I suspect a large proportion will find this difficult at the outset, which in itself reflects the addictive reality. But with parental perseverance and consistency, children will rediscover the beauty of relationships and the therapeutic benefits of personal interaction. Some might argue that the school environment facilitates this. But if the sum total objective of education is to enable children to develop as well-balanced citizens who can cope in the real world, it is precisely the socializing outside school, i.e.

in the real world, that has to be nurtured properly.

Silicon Valley will have you believe that social networking is the way of the future. Facebook, Twitter and the likes have hijacked our kids. We have to get them back.

The writer is a lecturer and broadcaster. He is a rabbi at the Mill Hill Synagogue in London and chairman of the Rabbinical Council, UK.

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