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I would agree 100% Father. I reluctantly joined Facebook recently just to stay in touch with a few friends and with the ulterior motive of promoting my own blog whenever I have a new post. That said, I was shocked at the amount of self-disclosure among practicing Orthodox Christians. Things I had no idea were going in their personal lives and which needed confession and spiritual counselling with their priest, not off-my-chest frankness to a bunch of so-called Facebook "friends". Social networking may help people stay connected on one level, but it is encouraging a shallowness of relationships that I don't think we are going to see reversed. Our children's virtual future is shallow and faceless.

I would echo Garth, on the limited pragmatics of such devices. If I want to actually communicate with someone I will call or write (an email). I admit to being on Facebook. I do not "friend" (what a hideous designation) someone I do not know, though I do "friend" (ugh!) persons I do not know well. It does, however, help me to maintain some level of connection to these persons, even if my primary interaction is to pray for them away from Facebook.

But, that said, utility is a dangerous argument on which to base a practice. And I do not use Facebook in perhaps the way its advertisers and programmers wish me to. One way I do not use it in the way they wish is to minimize my time on it. And to realize I am not truly "friend"-ing anyone via its utilities. At best, I am privy to data/information they choose to put on their pages, and only when I want to see it. Data/info that is as quickly forgotten as it is gained.

Unless I turn it to prayer.

I would also agree to the level of posing and role playing that is inherent in such media. A pithy "status" posted on Facebook easily masks depths of suffering and despair. Or a serious, thought-provoking "status" easily masks the thinness of the soul posting it. This is not "social" interacting. Or at least it is not fully human.

I am "generation X" but apparently a throwback because I would prefer not to "text" or "email" or even phone someone. I'd rather get with them over coffee (or a beer) and speak in person.

I find however that if I would generate such an opportunity with anyone, I first have to text, email, phone, "friend," and "tweet" them. It dawned on me a few months ago that one of the persons with whom I used to talk face to face a few times a week was almost never available to me via even the phone. I could call, but could only leave voicemails. And those were not returned. But if I "texted" this person, or "tweeted" them--I'd get immediate interaction.

It would be accurate to say that at whatever level our friendship had been, it is now pretty much nonexistent. The "social media" didn't kill it, but it is evidence of its demise.

Well, it can't be #5 because the climbing through Wordpress (and TypePad before that) to get to you would require a reality more than virtual. #1 would be a disgrace only for the actor playing me. I will never admit to #2. The "leading aright" of #4 escapes me: where is the right that the shame leads to? By default, we are left with Yugoslavia, which no longer exists.

"All hurt without any of the presence." "Grace of history as it has been revealed."

Good, James.

Okay... so let's just say a contemporary St. Mary of Egypt visited after googling you, asks about your Facebook page, Tweets your non-virtualness... and hearing nothing, falls into weeping over her sins and wends off to her saintly desert. Ditto the famous story we know but in a distinctly American context.. in this case, the Mohave. Lots of details could give this some legs.. but you're the creative talent here... I'm just an idea man. Let's just say the rest is future history. One day, in commemoration of this great moment 500 years hence, some PDA company runs an ad with a woman clearly matching a similar description trying to Tweet an actor clearly attempting to portray you. Would you consider this: 1) a disgrace, 2) sign that popular culture has some redeeming virtues, 3) equate it to the first color TV broadcast in then Yugoslavia where the images were famous icons.. but somehow it still wasn't right, 4) give thanks that even shame in this way leads aright... or 5) just climb through Wordpress and punch me in the nose? Personally, I'd pick option # 5 because it gives "virtual reality" a bit of depth that I think it needs... even if it hurts. What we have now is all the hurt without any of the presence. Flybys aren't good for anyone. And yet maybe these media aren't so bad in themselves... its like anything else... how we use them. And yet so much seems to go into adorning and preening ourselves I have to wonder whether that is really the user or the media. The message is the message... the media is not. But you are right... the media of the Incarnation yearns to be incarnate, to feel the press of flesh against flesh... hands grasped in friendship, presences met even with a glance. The more I think of substitutes... the more I am thankful for the grace of history as it has been revealed.

Yes, Joshua, I did too. I'm sure that texting in the cyberworld abets the escape of many thoughts (or fantasies) that should have been kept private and thus let fade away into the ether.

But something hideous happens in conversation that goes on too long, when two or more people start wondering what to talk about. At this point, they should either tell good stories, sing good drinking songs, or get up and go home. But they don't, and choose boorishness instead.

And at this point, the conversation begins to perform the dull, stygian libretto of rehearsed nitwit monologues of overplayed passion.

I think that the quality of culture can be graded on how long people can talk without devolving into such boorish (and demonic) speech.

This, I know, goes on in cyber-text. But I've known of too many situations where horrible little social fantasies are cooked up on the phone, and stupid, evil and not-so-little conspiracies are hatched and fratricides are waged.

Father,

I'd always, for some reason, assumed the exact opposite, but I suppose it is true that the written word requires more thought than the spoken. All the same, the tongue, as Seamus Heaney had it, should be governed.

S-P, your notice that we lose our faces and voices in the cyberworld is poignant. Thank you for pointing out the irony of a certain social networking service (though I'm sure MySpace is even worse).

Thank you, JCW and Garth, for your comments. I am sure you're right about the reference in the Philokalia.

I should note another benefit to texting: emailing and texting usually require more deliberate thought than does the telephone. I know it is possible, but it is less likely that the inanities of gossip -- the character assassination, the redacted history, the mob-rule denunciation -- will be transcribed.

For most people, the gossip inanities (of what the Fathers call "familiarity") require the immediate thoughtlessness that is de rigeur on the telephone. There is not enough time to think thoughts, so on the phone, one usually lapses into stock cliches and trite character references: cliches and anything trite (and thus meaningless) are the preferred stuff of passion.

Texting, at least for most people, requires more thought. It is embarrassing (or should be) to see the transcript of one's phone conversation: the grammar and vocabulary are poor, the ideas are superficial at best, if they appear at all; and the ad hominem remarks are atrocious and predominant.

Garth,

I appreciate your thoughts; thanks very much for them. They were certainly useful.

Father,

I'd invite you to Google Wave, but not even I know what I'm supposed to be doing on there. But then, that's the fun of it.

JCW:

I recall reading something like that in the Philokalia. There are two reasons why people in the city don't look at each other. The first is probably simple numbness and lack of community, but the second is to limit the overwhelming flow of human contact.

If you do simple math, if you know 10 people, you could possibly spend an hour a day with each and still have 14 hours to presumably do other things. Keep adding people and you rapidly reduce time and thus actual level of contact. Granted quality is a factor as well as quantity, but the Twitter guy with 60000 friends does not have 60000 'friends' - it is simply an impossibility (Twitter wisely called them 'followers' of course) since the dictates of friendship are going to limit itself to probably about 1000, but even then you are stretching the limit of what could be called conviviality.

All this besides, I think there is an art to being a socialite, and those who do not have a great talent at it may find themselves trivializing all of their relationships in an effort to 'collect' more. The prime relationships of God, spouse, children, best friend would not be unaffected by this change.

Thus I think Father is connecting the trivialization necessary to facebooking (where the most you can do is virtually poke, write, like, etc) to a general effect on all relationships.

I should note that my good friends, as well as my girlfriend, do not talk on facebook or twitter. I use facebook to drop notes and share things with people who were my friends at one time but distance and other circumstance prevent us from contact. It cannot replace being together, but it trumps never hearing from or of them again.

Just a thought.

We are losing our faces and voices with Facebook and Twitter. Amen, Father.

Cut, paste, post to Facebook. Thanks, Father :-)

Father, bless. Where, in the Spiritual Fathers you mention, do we find texts against over-familiarity? 'Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything'? Were you thinking of specific anthologies, such as 'The Philokalia'? I'm curious about sources, so as to begin reading and knowing. Thank you.


Sofia, theres nothing at all to forgive. I am suggesting -- well, more than suggesting -- that the scattering of self into so many superficial conversations and attachments is a strong reason why we stop at knowing about God, rather than knowing Him ... why we think about prayer as an activity, rather than simply praying.
I accuse the constant push of appliances that move us away from direct apprehension of reality, especially the reality of Gods Presence, as the culprit behind much of this entanglement with attachments.
Blessings,

Fr. Jonathan

"She and her Facebook Friends, usually frenetic, are bored. Full of information, but unable to hoist belief against the anxious and despondent tide of the 4 am abyss. I suspect that she prays as behavior, and cannot very often get herself away from being aware of herself trying to pray. Not praying in knowledge, when you are quite unaware that you are in the act of praying, and aware only that you are praying to Whom."

I have this problem. Forgive me.


Shall I dare to eat a peach?


Me too.

'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'

I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

'What is that noise?'
The wind under the door.
'What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?'
Nothing again nothing.
'Do
'You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
'Nothing?'
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
'Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?'
But
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It's so elegant
So intelligent
'What shall I do now? What shall I do?'
'I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
'With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
'What shall we ever do?'
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.


Eliot's 'The Waste Land' was all I could think of when I read your post.

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