One of the funnier books I’ve enjoyed has been Sarah Schmelling’s Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook. Its unwieldy title as well as the temporary nature of the subject ensure that this book isn’t destined to be a literary classic, but it is a nuanced and subtle treatment of the Facebook phenomenon. (My daughter found it on the bargain table at Borders, and it cost us less than two dollars.) Schmelling presents the Facebook pages of famous, departed authors, often with hilarious results. For some time I regarded YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as passing fads, but now I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve become so connected that shutting down the networks would be tantamount to pulling the plug on the respirator. We live to be connected. Humans are social animals, and yet many of us find ourselves isolated and alienated, living apart from family and those who were significant to us in times past. It’s the Internet to the rescue.
My wife pointed out an article on CNN entitled “The theology of Facebook, an online ‘altar’” by Omar L. Gallaga. Gallaga explores the concept that Facebook is now being taken as a spiritual venue by many. Quotes from the Bible or self-righteous, self-congratulatory religious sentiments are very commonly posted. So much so, Gallaga suggests, that some clergy worry about their jobs. Facebook has developed its own “spirituality” quite apart from anything its creator may have imagined. Facebook is evolving. I joined Facebook last year, but I limit my involvement to mostly watching others. Rather like I did as a kid on the school playground.
Is there balm in Gilead? In rereading Brave New World I am reminded of the insidious nature of soma, the feel-good drug. I’ve been to churches like that. Like Bernard Marx I left feeling empty. In Facebook-world it feels the same to me. We are communal creatures by evolution, but we want to talk about our troubles more than we want to listen. We are seeking that mythical, homeopathic cure to the ills our society creates: lack of prosperity (except for the Prosperity Gospel crowd, of course), joblessness, despair. Misery loves company and Facebook loves company. It is like the confessional without the absolution. Gallaga may be right; maybe Facebook has become a religious institution for some. If Facebook had come along a little earlier there would be no lost years of Jesus for us to ponder. We would know through his posts and tweets, exactly what it was like to be the son of God.