Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quote of the Day (A Fordham Co-Ed, on “Facebook Fasting”)

“I went to church, and I thought what would actually bring me closer to God or give me a better sense of self? What takes up time in my day? Facebook.”—Rebecca, a Fordham University student, discussing why she gave up her five-to-10 hours per week surfing Facebook, quoted in Marlene Naanes, “Saving ‘Face’ With God: Catholics Give Up Networking Site for Lent,” AM New York, March 10, 2009

Dear Rebecca,

If, by the magic of the Internet, you or one of your friends comes across this post, I hope you’ll reconsider your decision. It might be one thing if a friend was urging you to do so.

But this plea might have more credibility coming from someone like myself, a middle-aged technophobe who, unlike you, still hasn’t mastered all the nuts and bolts of Facebook over the course of a few weeks: Sacrificing Facebook is not the best way to get closer to God.

To start with, despite everything you may have heard in elementary and high school, perhaps even college, Lent is less about sacrificing things in your life than about rededicating yourself to God. If it means closing out the distractions in your life—to go, as “Desiderata” says, “placidly amid the noise and haste of this world”—fine. But otherwise, boiled down to its most absurd extreme, Lent becomes a mere 40-day dieting program instead of the searching reexamination of our lives that it should be.

Even giving up Facebook, I think, would be counterproductive. I write this as someone who, though appalled at its lowering of traditional privacy barriers, believes strongly in its power to bring people together. Even the pope has hailed that and other social networks for “forging friendships and understanding,” though he warns that it can’t replace real social interaction.

Facebook’s unparalleled power to communicate and draw people together can be a powerful tool to help you and other Catholic students, at Fordham and elsewhere, do something meaningful for God during Lent.

Sure, some people have been known to report on the most idle doings of their day while online—and to engage just about everyone they know in the most time-wasting chatter. But how about putting Facebook to better uses?

Why not create, if you haven’t done so already, online communities for dealing with the most pressing problems that face and their communities today? Here is just a partial inventory of voluntary work crying to be done, and readers are invited to add to the list:

* Helping the elderly—men and women often suddenly and catastrophically hit with health problems, and frequently suffering from loneliness and depression—in hospitals, elder-care facilities or their own homes;

* Work at a foodbank or homeless shelter to aid those without food or a home;

* Volunteer at libraries—institutions used now more than ever by people looking for jobs or simply wanting entertainment they can obtain for free, but institutions also among the first to be targeted for draconian budget cuts;

* Join organizations for helping victims of emergencies (e.g., the “Seeds for Haiti” program, designed to get bean and corn seeds for Haitian farmers devastated by hurricanes, tropical storms and other weather-related disasters)

The list can go on and on. The point is to draw people together so they can connect—and act. Facebook can be an essential part of this process.

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