Jesse Rice,
The Church of Facebook
(David C. Cook, 2009)

Jesse Rice is concerned about the death of community in our time and the building of a new one. Facebook, he says, with its millions of users who are creating networks of "friends," is becoming our new community. What we do not have in face-to-face relationships, we will get in virtual ones. Any parent who has, like me, watched his children text the kids who live next door instead of going over and talking to them in person knows the seductive power of the new technology. And anyone who has played around on Facebook knows it can be fun.

Moment of truth: I have a Facebook account and check in nearly every day, as does the editor of Rambles.NET. We are not what you might think of as disbelievers.

In his first chapter, Rice uses the work of the psychologists Martin Seligman (known for his studies of stress and optimism), Ray Fowler and Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi to prove that the key to happiness is a sense of connection and, yes, in our society, we have become disconnected. However, the overwhelming popularity of social networking sites is creating a new type of connection.

The problem, however, is that as our list of friends grows, as we're trying to keep up with more and more people, the quality of our online relationships declines; we keep up with dozens or hundreds of people, but our relationship with them is superficial. We have limited "channel capacity" and when we try to keep up with more than 15 or so people, we begin to overload.

Rice, though, sees potential instead of problems. Sure, it can be superficial, but it doesn't have to be. He gives us what he sees as ways to make Facebook a true community, instead of a superificial one.

Rice makes his points but he also has an irritating habit of breaking into his argument with humorous asides that are not funny and do not add anything to the points he's trying to make. He also has a Christian publisher so he makes several of his points with references to Jesus. They don't get in the way of his basic argument, though, and you can read the book profitably without being prey to Orthodoxy.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

14 November 2009

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