I recently made the decision to delete my Facebook account. Deactivate, I should say, because the company keeps one's records should one decide to reactivate one's account--or should it decide to sell the information about their users to advertisers.
When deactivating one's account, they ask for the reason. I told them Facebook is inimical to civilization. Although this explanation does have about it a whiff of the hyperbolic, it's not far from the truth.
As G. K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy:
For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea "it is not
well for man to be alone." The social instinct asserted itself
everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled
by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly;
and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent.
The brilliance of Facebook is in the way it taps into this basic human need while simultaneously leaving that need unsatisfied. We don't feel more connected with someone after viewing a picture on his wall or reading a post of his, even while Facebook pretends to grant this wish. And since we remain unfulfilled, we eagerly look for another picture or post. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
There is another way in which Facebook is devilish, though in this respect its far from unique: it feeds our drive for novelty. Our age is obsessed with what is new, and our media reflect this obsession. Listen to people discuss their favorite things. Whether the topic is movies or television shows, restaurants or beers, the bulk of the conversation will be devoted to the newest thing. And the praise of that thing will involve little more than a confirmation of its newness.
The Internet is powered by novelty, and Facebook is no exception. The news feed carries with it endless streams of triviality. The very term news feed reveals its purpose: we return to find out what else is new. Even if the last few stories have been dull, that which has yet to appear will be novel and could be of interest. No matter how many times we have been disappointed, we scroll or click to see that next new thing.
There is nothing wrong with novelty, so long as it properly proportioned. But our age worships this false idol and forgets that upon which our, indeed all, civilization is based: what T.S. Eliot--and Russell Kirk--called the permanent things: "the inherited principles, mores, customs, and traditions that sustain
humane thinking and preserve civilized existence for future generations".
Understand that here Facebook is not the villain. Nor, for that matter, is the Internet. There is nothing to prevent people from posting worthy things on the Internet--like chapters from Orthodoxy for instance. People may even link to these sorts of things from Facebook. But given the relationship between our age and novelty, it is imprudent to hope that the technology will work against the Zeitgeist. Rather the opposite, as the thirst for novelty can never really be quenched.
If we wish to keep what is left of our civilization, we must set aside the novel and rekindle our affection for the permanent things. Though not salvific, they are indispensable.
They're also more rewarding. Reading one of Plato's dialogues and discussing it with a close friend is far more satisfying than shouting at an Internet companion over his position regarding something some fool politician said. Anyway, it's worth a try.