What good purpose does Facebook serve with respect to its users today? It is questionable as to whether it delivers a net-positive degree of happiness or contentment. Studies seem to indicate Facebook is not helpful to our well-being. We are deluded if we think by having hundreds of friends we’ve never met, and by engaging in superficial interaction, that somehow we will derive similar benefit to spending face-time with real friends. So what good is it then? I can see two purposes for Facebook that are potentially worthwhile. One is to share with your shortlist of real friends and family. The other is a global forum where we might engage in the Great Conversation.
There are those who keep their friends and family list short. They post pictures of their vacations, pets and kid’s graduations. These posts are received on their friends’ newsfeed with genuine appreciation. No matter how many pictures they upload of pets or plates of food, their friends will probably *like* it. Under this scenario you typically steer clear of controversy. It’s better to avoid politics, philosophy and religion. Share a recipe or funny story and everyone will love it. Get into weightier matters and you might get unfriended. To these folks, a contrary comment might get you labeled as a troll. And of course if your only intention is to irritate those around you, then trolling is a vice. If on the other hand you articulate an idea and those who oppose it are irritated and offended, then trolling merely reveals our culture of reticence and political correctness run amok. That aside, it seems to me this is a legitimate use of Facebook even though I’m less inclined to use it for this purpose.
Then there are those of us in the camp who see Facebook as a global forum to discuss any topic. There was a time when we had speak-outs in the town square where one would stand up and engage the public in discourse. I’ve heard stories of my grandfather who would go down to the local pub and take part in philosophical discussions. The bartender kept a copy of Webster’s dictionary behind the counter to settle disputes over terms. He and his friends would look forward to these engagements over a scotch. No one knew who would wander into the fray on any given night, or how they might be bent. But regardless, there was a general respect for the opinion of others. Listeners were expected to form their own perspective, and if you had the courage, you might even articulate it openly. Tolerance actually meant something positive then. Though today we may have regressed in the practice of rational discourse, Facebook might actually offer some means of revitalization.
Even though Facebook has much to be desired for in-depth discussion, it does have an interesting characteristic. As you pursue weightier matters, conversions on topics considered taboo, your friends-list will inevitably evolve. Those who are intolerant of your views might unfriend you. Other uninterested friends in the first camp might hide your posts on their newsfeed. If you are tolerant in the traditional sense of the word, then you might unfriend those who are vulgar, offensive and incorrigible, but not those who can articulate a contrary view. On the other hand, you might choose to block those who agree entirely with you but add nothing but derision and noise to the conversation. With all of these configuration changes over time, your friends list will evolve to be comprised of those who are suitable for engaging in meaningful discourse on all sorts of topics.
You may be wondering how this applies to apologetics. Well, cordial and thoughtful discourse can improve our understanding of a topic and help us to better articulate a position to others. It also opens up opportunities for third-party observers to learn and grow. There are several people on my friend’s list with significantly different worldviews to mine. Still, I respect and appreciate hearing from them. To be sure, the more substantive and developed one’s worldview becomes, the more unlikely a contrary belief is integrated. A well-developed Christian worldview may find little to no common foundational ground with an atheist, but there may be plenty of possibilities around the periphery. We are certainly better suited to speak to someone with a different perspective after we have taken the time to understand it. If we communicate with each other with clarity and mutual respect, others watching will take note. I have found engaging in the Great Conversation on Facebook to be fruitful, especially as we employ 1-Peter-3:15 gentleness and respect. We inevitably learn more from those we disagree with than from those we already agreed with.