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If you have used Facebook for any amount of time it is possible you may have experienced some, erm, unhelpful emotions as a result of seeing everyone’s fabulous lives played out before your eyes.

Those holiday pics, the oh-so-perfect-marriage, the new job/house/car etc. All those status updates can leave you feeling just a little bit left out, a teeny bit unsatisfied.

Meg Jay, in her book The Defining Decade, talks about some of the issues surrounding Facebook:

For many, Facebook is less about looking up friends than it is about looking at friends.

The comparisons begin. Additionally, Facebook and other social media can quickly grow your ‘friends’ way beyond the amount of people you’d actually see regularly.

Rather than a way of catching up, Facebook can be one more way of keeping up. What’s worse is that now we feel the need to keep up not just with our closest friends and neighbours, but with hundreds of others whose manufactured updates continually remind us of how glorious life should be. (TDD)

Now hooked into playing keep up with an ever expanding group of aquaintances it’s all too easy to assume that the feed in Facebook is the new social norm. Those updates became our reality.

Most twentysomethings … treat Facebook images and posts from their peers as real. We don’t recognise that most everyone is keeping their troubles hidden. (TDD)

So, away with Facebook! Be done with social media and all will be put right! Or will it? What if, actually, Facebook is just the electronic stage on which we extend the games we play in the “real” world? Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher says this:

We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being: we want to lead an imaginary life in the minds of other people, and so we make an effort to impress. We constantly strive to embellish and preserve our imaginary being, and neglect the real one.

Pascal continues:

And if we are calm, or generous, or loyal we are anxious to let it be known so that we can bind these virtues to our other being, and would rather detach them from our real selves to unite them with the other. We would happily be cowards if that gained us the reputation of being brave. What a clear sign of the nothingness of our own being not to be satisfied with one without the other, and to exchange one frequently for the other!

From Blaise Pascal Pensées

Facebook isn’t the problem, but it sure does highlight something ugly about our hearts, something that we try to suppress, deny, and look the other way from.

We can search high and low, online and and off, to taste satisfaction but ultimately it’s only find in one person: Jesus. We can follow all the paths of this world to their end – searching for love, happiness, wealth, success – and arrive at the destination only to realise they really don’t fulfil. And having exhausted every option we can think of we are haunted by an unmet desire, an appetite that can not be nourished from the riches of this world.

At this point it is C. S. Lewis who says it best,

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.

Here are some of the things that have caught my eye this week from around the web:

How The Gospel Changes Our Apologetics, Part I
Tim Keller dealing brilliantly with the biblical basis for apologetics. One of the best answers to ‘Why apologetics?’ I’ve found.

Communion on the Moon: The Religious Experience in Space ht Micah Ruelle
An interesting look at why religious experience is mingled in with scientific discovery.

Every Presentation – Ever: FAIL [VIDEO] ht Michael Hyatt
Funny and all-too-true look at the problems many people experience either in giving, or sitting through, presentations.

When Good Ambition Gets You and Part II
How should a Christian see ambition?

It’s Just Stuff
“Stuff isn’t bad. It isn’t even wrong, but attachment to stuff (physical, emotional or spiritual) keeps us stuck”

‘We’ve got better restaurants than Paris and less rain than Rome’, says Boris Johnson [VIDEO]
The best of Boris from this week.

The Social Network 2.0 [VIDEO] ht Krish Kandiah
What would you do without Facebook? Funny take on how Facebook has changed our lives

The Defining Decade

The Defining Decade by Meg Jay
UK | US

I’ll level with you. Until a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have picked up this book. Psychology? Pah. Man up.

The older I get the more I narrow minded I realise I must have been and realise just how much grace I’ve been given by people around me!

I don’t know how the process of softening rock-hard judgements begins for everyone else. I suppose for me it’s a trust issue. If people or ideas I trust point me to areas that I haven’t explored/I’ve kept locked down, then, if I trust them enough, I may venture to that new area. With time I’ve realised these forays often prove very useful and they’ve become easier and easier with each successful trip.

It was the wisdom of my pastors in Maui and a friend/tutor in Oxford who helped illuminate my glaring blind spot here. Anyway, a few books later and this book, The Defining Decade pops up.

The Book

Easy, fun, and informative. The book, firstly, is easy to read. I don’t mean that it’s light fluff but that the author has a natural, gentle style that is a pleasure to read. Ideas are formed and repeated with just the right distance between the two to sit well in my mind.

Secondly, the book is fun. There are lots of stories. Some stories I laugh at, boldly. Some I laugh at a little more nervously as they land closer to home. Real-world stories help to connect the reader. Like a great film, we identify ourselves with certain characters. This is the same for The Defining Decade. I found myself turning to the next chapter keen to read the forthcoming story and see how much of me I saw in it.

Because of these two reasons, and probably many more, I learnt a lot from the book. Great writing + great storytelling = compelling learning. Here are some of things I learnt.

What I Learnt from The Defining Decade

I suppose that I didn’t walk away from this book saying, “Aha! I get it now.” Rather, the book reinforced some ideas I already held and helped to shape them to fit the stage of life I’m in now (side note: yeah, it’s risky to read this in your late twenties – who wants to hear they might have got them wrong?! – but hey, man up, it’s worth it).

The big idea is simply this, “Ideas have consequences.”

What we believe will determine how we act. Choices we make about career, marriage etc. well, they are big ideas, big decisions, and have big consequences.

Here are three things that stuck with me;

  1. Weak Ties“The Urban tribe is overrated” claims Jay. More and more, twentysomethings form a group of like-minded, socially-similar peers. With the dispersion of the family many people seek comfort in close friends. The trouble is, “the urban tribe helps us survive, it does not help us thrive.” By neglecting to cultivate weak-ties – relationships beyond our immediate close friends – we limit our connections and our potential.I can relate to Jay’s advice. My last job and my year of study in Oxford were the result of weak ties. I went out of my way to grab that lunch, have that coffee, with two “weak ties”. And big things happened as a result. If I had stayed put I would never have branched out discovered so much more of who I am and who I am meant to be.
  2. The Cohabitation EffectOk, so I knew that moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend was a bad idea. Marriage first, that’s the way, right? What I didn’t realise was some interesting studies that show just why cohabitation before commitment is bad.Jay calls it, “Sliding not deciding.” Bob moves in with Jane because it makes life “simpler”. But they haven’t decided to get married. However, with time, their lives become more and more entwined. In the end it’s “simpler” to get married. But then the marriage breaks down. The reality is couples who live together first are more likely to divorce than couple who do not.There’s value to the right amount of space needed to make a good decision. Instead of being led by a rush of hormones, or by cold pragmatism, weigh up the decisions neutrally. A good reminder – not just for who to marry, although I can’t think of many bigger decisions.
  3. Delayed Gratification“People of all ages and walks of life discount the future, favoring the rewards of today over the rewards of tomorrow.”This might be the biggest, and one of the hardest, lessons to learn. Credit cards, passionate romance – our culture screams that whatever you want you can have it now. But then comes the mountains of debt and the heartache.We are promised bliss and happiness, but often it turns out to be a lie. The trouble is, even though we’ve been fooled before, we’re easily fooled again. The smart decision is to delay gratification. To work hard and put off the reward. To invest now and take later. But if the purpose of work is pleasure and gratification then we’ll easily put it all on credit to get it now. How we define work will define a very large portion of how we live.I find that being a Christian helps to break the cycle of “must-have-it-now”. In Jesus I can truly know myself and be truly satisfied in God. I have desires for other things, but Jesus is my chief desire and through worshipping Him my priorities and desires are straightened out. Being a Christian isn’t about killing desire, it’s about desiring the right things. We’re built as creatures of desire – but as C. S. Lewis talks about, we are “half-hearted creatures” with weak desires.

Conclusion

This is a really useful book and I have no problem recommending it to twentysomethings (or thereabouts). Especially so those in university or who have just left. The Defining Decade is full of helpful wisdom, the stories are down to earth and the points are well made.

Have you read it? I wonder what you think. Be great to hear from you on this.

Buy The Defining Decade on Amazon – UK | US

Is Social Media Ruining Students?

Click to view nice, big graphic full of stats on social media and learning

In 2005 The Guardian ran an article stating that,

The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis.

That was 2 years before the iPhone was released to the world and before we’d ever heard of Twitter or the majority of us could sign up for a Facebook account.

Smart phones and high-speed data networks with wide-range coverage have changed the way we communicate. They have also changed the way we think and the way we make decisions.

In this tech-savvy generation the question “What can we do?” has replaced “What ought we do?” . Mankind, unfettered by the Industrial Revolution is now reaching new, dizzying heights through the use of the Internet/Social Media Revolution.

We lap up new technology quicker than a light lunch at YO! Sushi and, herded on by the pack in full stride, we couldn’t pause for thought to digest our achievements even if we desired to.

Does Facebook Create or Destroy Society?

OnlineEducation.net (HT Bill Hutchison) has produced this nice graphic that shows the result of a study on the effects of Social Media upon students.

One fascinating conclusion is the effect of Facebook on students. According to the research,

“Facebook addiction” is searched 350x more than “cigarette addiction.”

The feelings that this addiction brings includes, “frantically craving, very anxious, extremely antsy, miserable, jittery, and crazy.” Should stand them well for Finals week then.

We can connect to all of our friends – past, present and future – and can organise events, view photos, share links. Great. It’s a grand extension of society online.

But then we’re told that “48% of students on Facebook think they’re sadder than they’re friends” with “25% of college students [showing] serious depression in their status updates”.

Perhaps this cyber-world of relationships isn’t as rosy at it can seem. Perhaps all the smiling, happy photos of our friends and a culture of ‘liking’ what we say (incidentally, you can like this post on the left and boost my endorphine levels) leaves us feeling a little second-best. What if we don’t look as good as our friends? What if our lives are boring compared to others? What if no one ‘likes’ what I have to say?

Facebook may turn out to be less of a social group than a self-promotion tool where the strong survive and the weak slowly lose their mind. Either way, it would appear that the setup is more orientated toward the individual than the group. Are you coming to this event. Do you like this photo. Do you want to play Farmville (to which the answer is emphatically no, always).

For a philosopher/theologian’s take on Facebook, have a look at Understanding Social Media (PDF) by Douglas Groothius. Groothius offers an indepth analysis with some helpful tips on how to get the best and avoid the worst that Facebook has to offer.

Do We Unplug or Engage?

We face a choice, as a generation or two before us faced with the television, to engage with this new realm of technology or ‘pull the plug’ and opt out. I don’t suppose to know the answer to this but perhaps we can take a lesson from history here.

Before Media became Social a wise sage by the name of Malcom Muggeridge gave a series of lectures that became that brilliant book Christ and the Media. At the end of the book John Stott concludes with these remarks which I wish to leave us with,

“I myself believe, you see, the media go wrong … it’s no good blaming them: when the meat goes bad it’s no good blaming the meat and the bacteria that are making the meat putrefy: it’s the fault of the salt that’s not there to stop it from going bad. And if the media have gone bad, so bad that we want to take our aerials out, who is to blame? Are you pointing the fingure at them? Over there? I point the finger here. It’s our fault. It’s the fault of Christian people. If only we could be the salt of the earth as we were meant to be, and refine, and reescue for Jesus Christ.”