Facebook: The church of a global village

5/13/2012 11:45:33 AM

Millions worldwide embark on a daily pilgrimage to a single space residing in the digital world -- and that place belongs to Mark Zuckerberg.

Recently, a friend of mine had mixed up Zuckerberg with "Zukerhut" [which is German for Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil]. While I had tried to imagine how the world's famous cliff in Rio de Janerio could turn into the world's largest, skyward-pointing "Like" Thumb, another imagery would come to mind -- the iconic 38-metre high statue of Christ the Redeemer spreading out His arms over the city.

Description: Facebook: The church of a global village (part 1)

And isn't Mark Zuckerberg somewhat like a new messiah who feeds the hungry with Communication? After all, the man has proselytised appropriately 800 million people withing eight years. He has brought them together and persuaded them all to say "Like". And to present one of the largest sacrificial offering that humans could offer: Time. The average digital citizen of the world spends just under 16 hours on Facebook daily, with an estimated overall of more than ten billion seconds per month.

"What are your religious beliefs?"

But Zuckerberg is, perhaps ironically, listed in Wikipedia's "List of Atheists" under the business category. His Facebook status is also quoted here - "Religious Views: atheist". Mark Zuckerberg is up there among other prominent atheists such as English typesetter John Baskerville, after which whom a famous font is named after; American pornography publisher Larry Flynt (of "Hustler" fame); or British inventor Sir Clive Sinclair, who had launched one of the first home computers in the eighties, the Sinclair ZX-81.

If one would search Google for "Mark Zuckerberg, Religion", one will first find a remarkable and equally puzzling search hit: "The assumption for Mark Zuckerberg's religion is atheism''. Google does not put up an assumption for any other person; not the Dalai nor even Pope Benedict XVI. That particular search item there points politely to the respective Wikipedia entry. Is Google now also becoming a speculation machine and is Mark Zuckerberg their first guinea pig from a competitive side? Incidentally, the Pope is also on Facebook (with "9,866 Likes"). One, however, simply cannot "Poke" him.

"The planetary confessional box"

Facebook, meanwhile, is firmly intertwined in the social web of the world. Almost every second American on the street has a Facebook account (but 70% of Facebook users live outside of the U.S). More than 12.3 million Malaysians use Facebook, on smartphones or computers or tablets that serve as a device of worship. "The Facebook era has begun and Mark Zuckerberg is the person who has brought us here," wrote TIME Magazine in December 2010, when Zuckerberg was announced as the "Person of the year". In this leading article, a reporter describes one of the few conference rooms in the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto as "an open-plan office completely visible through three sides of glass walls".

This "No Privacy, Full Visibility" room reflects much of a Facebook account, and it's a radical openness it has embraced. It's like a confessional box in a Catholic church, which comes with its own privacy settings and deliberately limited settings options -- at least according to the will of its non-religious founder, Zuckerberg.

That an atheist prompted hundreds of millions of people to not only openly confess everything, but also the fact that such a behavior could purely and simply become a conventional form of communication, is rather astounding. In January 2010, Zuckerberg announced the end of your own private sphere, that it was a thing of the past. It has a value that doesn't interest anyone now. In the centre of Facebook, this confessionary is already a part of its architecture. There are no "cubicles" reminiscent of the low-partitions in open-plan offices in America, which are supposed to provide a semblance of privacy to its workers. Here, in the Facebook headquarters, there are almost no walls and no cubicles: only an open prairie made of office furniture. Even Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and visionary of the service, does not have his own office.

Pour yourself to the world

The walls surrounding us are becoming more and more translucent and porous through the network as if the perforated web that represents a network would now also be transferred to the remaining parts of the world. What takes place in the network meanwhile often feels like confession without a sin: everyone talks, everything opens up. Facebook is, in this case, a pioneer and a mass movement in one. The main pleasure in social media is to pour yourself out in the world and to be drunk in by thirsty, considerate eyes.

Our culture is rooted in the high value which we attach to the individual. Privacy is the humus on which this value thrives. Now our society appears to be grasped by a boundless desire in the absence of secrecy. As a means of the world explanation, the computer and communication technology now tends towards becoming a religion - like every ideology imparting the universal meanings and demanding the absolute acculturation. Following the correct commands is gentled through the concept of computerence.

Like every other large company, Facebook also has its own philosophy and Commandments. Among other things, the Facebook developers claim to make the world more open and transparent with their work, thus encouraging mutual understanding and to enable individual persons to have control when exchanging information. You can read through the ten Facebook bids under php -- and then decide for yourself as to whether Facebook sticks to them.

Large churches are decadent

A Hollywood scriptwriter had once said: "what we give the people is the Christian message - that we should all be honest, should love each other and should fight for the weak." Production of powerful myths has shifted from the religious to the economic scope. Large churches are regarded by many as decadent, mainly by the younger people. The social change of last year and the decade has brought about a radical change of values.

With virtualisation, the "informatisation" of the world actually treads an ethereal, spiritual component. The computer itself is becoming a multimedia totem. Like a family altar, it sits on the desk of the world and radiates its shamanic lure.

Mark Zuckerberg has a clear vision of where he wants to go with his worldwide contact church. He was in his early twenties when he turned down a takeover bid from Yahoo! of over one USD 1 billion dollars - against the opposition of his investors. Today the stock market analysts assess Facebook at between USD70 and 100 billion dollars. What had begun before a couple of years as a hobby in the form of software has now become something in the entire world which changed the reality of people and the way in which they organise their relations. 7,000 years ago, the first civilizations existed on the banks of Nile and Euphrates and Tigris in the early days of written history. Similarly, the social-media people establish today on the bank of a large stream: on the bank of the live stream. We live our life now partly and in increasing measures through a privately operated network, which has already made its owner a multibillionaire, at least on paper.

Facebook and the Tower of Babel

Cultural pessimists see the Facebook-line as something comprising of media fragments, links and text bits - the stream -a source of increasing loss of orientation and sensuous impoverishment, the product of a distraught society, which has lost that deep-rooted, collaborative experience which was endowed till now by spirituality, religion and philosophy. What remains is a consumer society where "whoever dies with most toys, wins" (Neil Postman, US American media researcher). But times change and soon its network is also a place of immortality for posts and images. Eternal living with Facebook - well, in that case, there should be "undead" next to Status. Could be in such a way that the one who dies with the most friends and followers, wins. If the digital 'I' then ever dies. After all the network is also a place of immortality for posts and images. Eternal living with Facebook - well, in that case, there should be "undead" next to Status.

Interestingly there are mainly clergymen for whom Facebook appears to represent the modernized model of a church. "If Mark Zuckerberg can create Facebook for his own glory, what can we create as a church to the glory of God?", asks, for instance, Steven Furtick, his sign chief pastor of the Elevation Church in the US federal state of New Jersey. "The people have begun the Tower of Babel for their own glory. Zuckerberg makes a name for himself. But the tower was not perfect and the names of those who built it have been forgotten."

Then the all clear signal in January 2011, at least for the Roman Catholic faction: the Pope stated social networks such as Facebook as places offering the Christian "great opportunities of association." It should however not take the place of direct human meetings.

Stronger through weak bonds

Sociologists at the Michigan State University have incidentally observed that social networks can have a surprisingly positive effect on the human psyche. Users who were unsatisfied with their life or who suffered from lack of self-confidence and then began to frequent networks such as Facebook intensively could set up a social energy reserve. It is a form of human relations which psychologists describe as "weak bond". A person has weak bonds with schoolmates or to party acquaintances for instance. They are very important because they open new perspectives and opportunities for a person and can also give new impulses which one would not obtain any longer from close friends or family members - because one already knows them very well.

Description: Facebook brings people together, although not always to do good - like at this "Facebook party" in Hamburg.

Facebook brings people together, although not always to do good - like at this "Facebook party" in Hamburg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) speaks to Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (R) in front of a monitor displaying a facebook page of Prime Minister's Office of Japan in Tokyo on March 29, 2012.

Description: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) speaks to Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (R)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) speaks to Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (R)

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