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Facebook is killing us softly

I’m an efficiency nut and love all things digital. I’m writing this blog for goodness sakes. When Bill Gates advocated the paperless office, I said, “Amen!” and got rid of my desk. So, maybe I’m not the best guy to write about the limits to the digital revolution, especially as relates to our chi…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I’m an efficiency nut and love all things digital. I’m writing this blog for goodness sakes. When Bill Gates advocated the paperless office, I said, “Amen!” and got rid of my desk. So, maybe I’m not the best guy to write about the limits to the digital revolution, especially as relates to our children.

The Jamaicans have a phrase: “Too much a good thing, good for nothin’!” And now it appears that includes a lifestyle we’ve built around our computers. They do so much for us, but somewhere we need to draw a line.

A new book by Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University diagnoses the problem. It’s called The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). As that long subtitle indicates, we need to be concerned about what a life lived in front of a computer is doing to our young people.

Bauerlein’s thesis is that young people spend so much time on sites like Facebook that they are losing the capacity to sit quietly in a room by themselves and read a book. As a consequence, they are losing the capacity to think deeply about issues.

The Booklist review tells us how this happens:

The immediacy and intimacy of social-networking sites have focused young people’s Internet use on themselves and their friends. The material they’re studying in school (such as the Civil War or The Great Gatsby) seems boring because it isn’t happening right this second and isn’t about them.

They’re using the Internet not as a learning tool but as a communications tool: instant messaging, e-mail, chat, blogs. And the language of Internet communication, with its peculiar spelling, grammar, and punctuation, actually encourages illiteracy by making it socially acceptable.

It’s an urgent issue. USA Today says, “If you’re the parent of someone under 20 and read only one non-fiction book this fall, make it this one.”

This is not a question of Facebook/Twitter/Cellphones being good or bad. They are wonderful communication tools. It’s a question of “do you over-use them, and does that shape the way you think?” Because I love young people, I’m concerned about this phenomenon.  So many businesspeople I know refer to their inability to commit or make disciplined decisions and they say, “They make poor employees.” 
If you’re a young person, consider the possibility that you may be further down this road than you realize.  I suggest buying the book and meditating on what your digital habits may be doing to your mind. It’s insidious – with over-use, your ability to communicate in-person may be handicapped. The point is, whoever it is that you’re becoming, you’d be better off becoming that on purpose, not by default, the result of a lifestyle, that while convenient, actually euthanized that part of you that was most interesting and attractive.

Comments (30)

  • God has certainly given you the gift of discernment, Seth… and I agree wholeheartedly. This book is now on my must-read list. Thanks…. praying for you and all the World Racers always…

  • Thanks for the blog. Our daughter does love to read books, but we saw how that and other good things (like our time together as a family) were being taken over due to Facebook. After limiting her to 15 minutes twice a week, we have our daughter back in more ways than one. We’ll be getting the book as required reading! Thanks again.

  • St. mark of the Cross

    I have had this discussion with other English teachers about how the scores English exams has gone down over the last five years. I think it could be because many students are so into the world of text messaging, that they are unable to write in correct English. It has been very difficult at times to grade papers of students who write in “text-shorthand.” I was somewhat familiar with the old style of shorthand, but this new stuff – everyone is doing it and it does not take a short-hand instructor to teach it. As to reading books! Dare ask a student to read one of the classics in Literature, when all they have read is Harry Potter, magazines of youth lies(oops!) I mean lives, or the long text messages of their friends. I have also noticed a world of young people who cannot maintain healthy relationships and engage people eye to eye… I thought was one of those kind of teachers that young people really like to engage, but alas…I realized that I am not a camera, you can’t text messaging from me, and I am not internet accessible.

  • Fundamental to the premise is the assumption that if people were off facebook/twitter they would be reading books. Ha! They would be talking on the phone. facebook/twitter are just another method of communicating among people since the beginning of time. And I do not think that conversations 100 years ago (or 40 when I was talking) were any more meaningful than todays. It is the act of communicating that is the reward, not the content. Content is mostly irrelevant in the human experience.

  • I find all this talk about Facebook to be more than just a bit alarmist in nature, as well as containing familar rhetoric spoken in the past whenever something new is introduced into our psyche, culture, & way of doing things.

    I’m a 20something pastor that uses Facebook & texting as a major communication tool for our ministry, both in sending info out as well as receiving info from people within our ministry. Facebook / texting is a significant component in the building of our sense of community.

    The people within our ministry are constantly Facebook-ing or texting each other, usually setting up meeting times for supper, coffee, or hanging, or just for finding out how everyone is doing. Their lives are so overbooked with work, play, & just life, that they don’t have a lot of time to communicate or connect in ways deemed more appropriate by those of us with more so-called maturity & perspective.

    I don’t think that Facebook/text messaging shorthand has corrupted people’s writing skills anymore than anything else in our culture. Prior to working with 20somethings (6 years)I was full time in music ministry for 30 years. Young people & young adult writing skills were always pretty lame during that whole time, long before Facebook & texting were ever thought of.

    Their poor writing skills came from, & comes from, poor instruction during their school years & poor participation of their parents in their schooling. That sounds like a big blanket generalization, but that’s what it seems I’ve been able to boil it down to over the years.

    I’ve never encountered that many young people/young adults who have EVER been all that thrilled with reading the classics, including from the time I was in jr hi/high school. My experience of being underwhelmed with the classics was because of poor instruction. 6 weeks studying the House of Seven Gables, or The Odyssey, or Silas Marner in most poorly taught English Lit classes would kill your joy for the classics. And that was 40 years ago. And I haven’t sense English Lit instruction having gotten any better since then.

    Before anyone thinks I’m dis-ing English teachers, draw back in your claws. I can remember having friends in other school systems or other states who were lucky enough to have great English teachers who were able to make reading & the classics living & exciting, but, alas, those kind of teachers were few & far between, just like they are few & far between today.

    But most of all, what we see that is alarming about Facebook & texting is kinda of like being alarmed about young people / young adults have casual (& frequent) sex, or taking recreational drugs. What we are seeing is just a SYMPTOM of a MUCH greater problem. Trying to fix the symptom is a futile way to address the situation, although that seems the route we always take.

    Young people & young adults are the victims of we “mature adults/parents” who have married, divorced, blended, unblended, shacked up, jumped in the sack, taken too many drugs, spent too many hours at work, abused ourselves & them, neglected ourselves but more them, & simply screwed up their lives to the point they will spend the rest of their lives getting therapy &/or dealing with the mountain of issues heaped on them by the self-centered lives that we, their parents, have inflicted upon them.

    If we are so ever-lovin’ concerned about our young people & young adults, let’s focus on their basic needs & issues & quit wailing about symtoms that will take care of themselves when the deeper, deep-seated problems of their lives are dealt with & healed.

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    WOW! Dan, interesting perspective… You are right though, about the idea that it is all symptomatic of our society. As to text messaging, Facebook, etc… Yes, all can be used for the good of the kingdom of God – which is what we are all after. However, whether it be the “loss” of classic literature teaching(which by the way are exciting!), or the loss of inter-personal relationships, our world needs a Jesus who is real. I love the idea that we are all looking at this “elephant” from different sides. Coming together to realize that we all want the same thing – Jesus in all is what will matter in the long run. I have no problem with Facebook, text messaging, etc…I use them all(although not good at all text-languages). I would like to remind all of us that the counter-revolution of the late 60’s & early 70’s brought some new freshness into society. However, along with that came the “free” lifestyles that we are eating the fruit of now. Okay, do messaging and facebook – it is just a reality that young people today whether it is poor instruction, poor parenting, or poor educational interest, are lacking in their ability to communicate effectively to all aspects of society – young and old alike. Maybe I just need the gift of “interpretation of text-tongues?” lol

  • Interesting debate here today guys! Laughed at your interpretation of text-tongues, Mark!!

    Absolutely agree with Dan that this is symptomatic not definitive of the issues. My friend found young people in his office were emailing each other at the next desk rather than having a conversation, so he initiated some new rules to get everyone talking to each other and they worked, though they were uncomfortable about it at first. They hadn’t done that before unbelievably, but they loved it once they tried it out.

    It’s always a question of balance. Facebook is great, I have it as my home page online. It’s the way I stay in touch with what’s going on in the lives of the teens I used to teach music workshops to. But they all read books and talk to each other as well. Teaching balance and a variety of communication skills it what is important here, not advocating only one against all the others.

  • Hey dan waits!?

    If you’re out there, could you contact me? I’d like to use some of your comments in a blog post I’m preparing on the usefulness of twitter.


  • Love the debate here.
    I am an English teacher….no claws.
    I love technology…I love to teach my students how to use technology to enhance their learning.
    I have a facebook account, I use texting, I have a personal blog as well as a classroom blog.
    I really enjoyed reading the different perspectives.

  • I am a 57-year-old who has a Facebook account, texts, and blogs. I could seriously sit at the computer all evening communicating if I let myself.

    I am also a teacher and I have deep concerns about the tnings you brought up, Seth. Last year at a Christian teacher’s conference I was priviliged to hear Shane Hipps as keynote speaker. He has written The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. If you haven’t heard of him, google his name. Absolutely dynamic.

  • A thought I’ve had for the last couple weeks is why are the status updates of Christians on Facebook the same updates as nonChristians?

    In other words, I was thinking my updates should look something more like:

    Gabe Landes is…
    …preaching good news to the poor, or
    …binding up the brokenhearted, or
    …proclaiming freedom for the captives, or
    …releasing prisoners from darkness, or
    …comforting someone who mourns, or
    …proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor

    Okay, you get the idea. But instead we Christians get caught up with the same shopping trips and other distractions everyone else is caught up in. You know, like:

    Gabe Landes is…
    …making spaghetti for supper
    …regreting too much fiber today
    …blah blah blah

    Not that those things are wrong, it’s just that there could be some really cool distinctions if we were living upstream!

  • I agree with Dan…Facebook is a symptom. It’s the drug of choice these days.

    The real problem is that the previous generations didn’t/haven’t challenged us enough. I’m surrounded by peers who had helicopter parents (as Seth calls them) that made sure they stayed happy and protected throughout their childhood. The previous generations worked so hard to make life better for their kids, that they went too far.

    Life is too easy. There’s no real challenge. There’s no real risk. And so we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no real identity or depth or contribution.

    Why are test scores down? Because the standards were lowered so that everyone could be included and feel good about themselves. Why reach for anything higher when mediocre will get you a gold star? We’ve been taught that been happy and feeling good is more important learning how to fail and get back up again.

    Facebook and cell phones and video games did not produce the dumbest generation. Our parents did. Our teachers did. We are tuned out because we haven’t been shown anything worth tuning in to.

    If you’re a parent or teacher, or anyone with influence with the current generation, you must start raising the bar. Hold us accountable. Challenge us. Excite us with the possibilities. Let us feel pain. Let us fail. Push us to do better than the last time. Make it real.

  • For Gabe: your Christian facebook friends are different from mine. Mine often make “God” comments or quote Bible verses in their status. Easter week was slam full of ’em! (Of course, most of my friends and I live in the Bible belt South!)

  • Last week my husband came to me and said he decided to stop with twitter and facebook (he gave me permission to share this). Just for now, he felt like these things were somehow detrimental to the communication God desires for us in our marriage. I am proud of him for following God’s leading and prompting, by giving those things up for now, but maybe it is easier since we are 40 plus in age. I have to really watch myself with the amount of time I read blogs, that it does not take away from my time with God, my husband and kids. I think facebook/twitter/blogging/etc. CAN be great for communication and can bring glory to god if used in a healthy way and used in moderation with other forms of communication in our daily lives. I just wonder if there are times that we allow them to become idols when used too much. I could see how they could potentially become a handicap to healthy communication if we allow it.

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    I just want to say “thanks” to all of you for sharing your heart and views on this subject. I like the encouragement and the desire to love and follow Jesus, that I see in each one of you. I pray that in whatever we all do – we do it to the glory of God. I tried to translate this on a “text” keyboard so everyone could understand it, however, my keyboard is not set up as so. I will talk to my son and daughter tomorrow morning for a crash course on “text-English” – I am very sorry for my “text-English” not being so good.

  • I’m 20, almost 21, and in college, so I thought I’d comment and show the “younger” view on this idea.

    First off, Dan Waits hit the nail on the head, as did Jen Schwab. Our generation texts, twitters, and facebooks. It is part of how we communicate, in addition to phone conversations, face-to-face conversations, e-mails, and even the occasional letters (“snail mail,” even though I personally detest that phrase). Sometimes, we just want to ask one question or don’t have time for a full conversation, so texting is a good way of accomplishing that. I think it also goes along with our instantaneous, “gotta have it now” society.

    I get agitated whenever I read articles like this, saying that Facebook is making us, as a generation, dumb. Yes, I know of many situations where people waste hours on Facebook (I’m guilty of that from time to time), but if there wasn’t Facebook or Twitter or anything like that, people would still find ways to waste their time. I live on campus, and see daily instances of people wasting their time off of Facebook. I might be totally off-base on this, but I personally think that people aren’t doing as well in school is because they don’t have the personal motivation to give it their all, to take risks, to succeed. Even in college, there are students who obviously don’t want to be there. It doesn’t take long while sitting in class to see who is motivated and who doesn’t really care. This lack of motivation can come from a variety of sourceshome life, physical surroundings, past experiences, lack of confidence, etc. To tack the blame on just parents and teachers is unfair. Yes, those two groups have a huge stake in it, but that isn’t the whole picture. Maybe the school system a person attended as a child couldn’t afford to hire decent teachers. Another reason that test scores are lower is because there are so many test scores that the teachers have to teach to. The teachers only have the time to teach what will be on the tests, so teaching “classics” might be out of the picture.

    I admit, it is far too easy at times to get caught up in technology. At the same time, when I’m actively seeking God away from the computer, I don’t miss technology one bit. Rising above the status quo has never been an easy task. If it was easy and didn’t involve challenges, then the status quo in and of itself wouldn’t exist, because everyone would have risen above it. I have friends who don’t have texting. I know people who like to read (myself included!). I know people on campus whose words and thoughts blow me away and make me really think. I know people on campus who are quite intelligent, and also spend time on Facebook. I know people who don’t really go on Facebook a lot. So we’re not all being “ruined” by Facebook. 😉

  • >>Facebook / texting is a significant component in the building of our sense of community. <<

    I thought this was a telling comment from above… our SENSE of community is not the same as actual community… any more than our friends on FaceBook are the same as actual friends.

    Digital communication is better than none for those who cannot bridge the personal gap but it’s still only a sense of a social, intellectual, relational life… it’s not an actual life. No matter how well we “know” each other online, until we’re sitting on the same side of the screen, we still live in isolation.

    While I might even agree with his premise and share your concerns… As to titling a book: The Dumbest Generation…Please!! I can’t help but hear that song from Bye, Bye Birdie (c.1963): “Kids!…Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way… what’s the matter with kids today?” The object changes but the song remains the same. (LoL- I checked- it’s on Youtube)

  • Just in passing…………reading these comments about Facebook updates, I can see what you are saying but if I used phrases like that, most of my friends (more than 80% of which on Facebook are not Christians yet) simply wouldn’t understand them. They make sense to Christians but, with the greatest of respect, are a tad jargonised for unchurched people. My friends want to stay in touch with me and my life – they’ll soon touch the God of my life as they do, but if I put it in their faces on an update, I don’t imagine most of them would warm to it easily.

    Just a personal view…..

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    Carol, you make a great statement about our “prhaseology”… Jesus, did not always use the exact wording of the Law, rather he broke it down into everyday events and happenings that the people related to. The Pharisees (Mark) were the ones always quoting the Law, being out of touch with the people around them Jew and Gentile. I have non-believing people in my life also, and I do quote scriptures all the time, except it is in language we use everyday – I just don’t always add John 3:16 to the beginning or ending. Carol, be blessed…hope to meet you someday in my travels. The other night a Russian minister spoke over my life that my feet would go places they have never gone before – maybe it is in your “neck” of the world – have a great tea day in Jesus!

  • I didn’t mean write those phrases exactly as they’re written in scripture for my updates. That’s a little too religious for my taste.

    To use a better example, I hope one day one of my updates might say something like, “Gabe Landes just went to the Children’s hospital, prayed for a sick child, and God showed up and healed him.”

    That would be a cool update. That’s more what I meant.

  • Dan Waits made a statement that hits the nail on the head deeper than I am sure he realises,”Their lives are so overbooked with work, play, & just life,”

    Did Jesus not say “come to ME all those that are heavy burdened and I will give you rest”

    Satan is very good at providing his own resources to help people out of their “busy lives” and distract them from sitting quiet with God and letting Him unburden you from things He doesnt actually want you doing.

    Jesus said “My burden is light” so if your finding life is just too busy to fit everything in then something is not quite right.

  • Mark, I hope we meet some day too!

    Gabe, I like the way you put it the second time around :))) That really would be a cool update! And one that would get a lot of response too.

    lol xx

  • Amen to the fact that twentysomethings make for bad hires. I think that this is indicative of how much our culture (particularly young people) are so easily distracted.

    What is social media but a series of interruptions? However, I would argue that facebook (and social media in general) isn’t the problem – it’s just an indication of the problem. Many of the apps on facebook were intended for good, useful purposes, and have been abused (just look at everything people are a “fan” of these days, if you don’t believe me).

    With that said, I love social media. I love connecting with other people over causes and issues about which we are passionate. I’ve seen social media raise thousands of dollars to help the poor, connect lonely people with supporting communities, and share the truth of the Gospel with those who need healing and redemption in their lives.

    However, I also notice that facebook, twitter, etc. have the capability to corrupt us, to turn us into people who can’t focus, to addict us to things that look like real life, but in reality are not. And that’s sad. I’m reading a book called Flickering Pixels, which has a similar thesis.

    This is what keeps me sane (and hopefully avoiding falling into the “dumbest generation” category). I spend a lot of time on the internet, but I also have a stack of books on my desk and bedside table that often calls to me. I try to read at least one book a week, and the only way I’m able to do that is by turning off the laptop and finding a quiet place in my apartment to detach from all the different outlets vying for my attention.

  • Good stuff here Seth. The Lord actually had me delete me Faceook recently. For many reasons. Time, safety, work in the 10/40 window, obedience to Him. And as I sat there many times for over 6 months knowing I should hit the delete account button. I delayed. It really made me look at the idols I have placed before God. People, entertainment, social connectivity. When I finally did hit the delete button – it was actually very very freeing. I wont spend a lot of time to write what the Lord has taught me or challenged me with in this process… what is important is that we are willing to listen to the still small voice. So I am here to say, if the Lord has whispered to you about your time on Facebook, or any other thing that could be an idol… you are not crazy, you are not a fanatic, you are a child of God and He may be calling you to a higher level of obedience. He may just want to draw you aways to spend time with Him. He may be protecting you and preparing you for something greater in the future. Whatever it is…OBEY. Trust me, the reward is worth the cost!!!

  • I really believe it’s important to have balance in our lives. My balance is Jesus. When I take the time with Him, everything works out… when I don’t it’s chaos.

    I am 40 something and feel I had a pretty good education growing up. I believe the girls back then weren’t given the same educational opportunities the guys got. But… we all had the same books.
    We need to use the tools we have, right! I do have a Facebook acct. and actually Seth is my friend on it (go figure!) I enjoy facebook as a useful tool of communication. Being able to walk away and keep my schedule is important and part of that balance I was talking about. Work before play! Then we all enjoy the day!
    The one thing I do feel the generation today lacks is showing us through communcation “WHO THEY REALLY ARE”. Writing personal letters when I was growing up is how we communcated. It revealed much about us and our character. Today through texting, etc… we get bits and not much substance from the younger generation.

  • hi brethren:) we’re actually exploiting facebook for the Gospel.
    no technology of man is anything but a tool for reaching the lost.
    nothing need hurt you, as long as you see the Good opportunity in it for Christ Glorification.
    turn it around today: remember–we’re on the OFFENSE, not the defense…& “the gates of hell shall not prevail against us”.Amen. your friend, marilyn

  • Cute how the debate is being mixed in with a false god which really has nothing at all to do with the issue at hand!

  • Speaking of reading books… I’m just finishing one that I thought you may enjoy… and others around you 🙂 The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. It’s her perspective and experiences building non-profit/for-profit and micro-loan businesses for the poor (women) around the world.

    Alaska is finally warming up and thawing out for Spring! Already long days that keep getting longer 🙂

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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