A More Google Less Facebook Church

            In last Sunday’s New York Times “Week in Review” section, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz an economist and the author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are wrote a column entitled “Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable.” Stephens-Davidowitz spent five years analyzing Google searches and social media posts, primarily on Facebook. He found that what we post on Facebook tends to reveal our better sides and the parts of our lives we are most proud of.

            The author notes, for example, “that Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.” Certain medical concerns like migraine headaches garner more support on Facebook than does Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The difference is that IBS sufferers are more embarrassed by their struggles that those who deal with migraines.

            Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes, “We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.”

            I know that there are some people who won’t come to Sunday morning worship because they are afraid that they will break down and start crying during a hymn or they won’t know where to find something in the Bible. Others are so deeply ashamed of their personal or familial failures that church is the last place they would go. How sad that is for me to hear. We exist because every last one of us, the Pastor especially, is struggling with something. My friends in Alcoholics Anonymous have a wise saying: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”

Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides.

            That’s why I hope we will become more of a “Google” congregation than a “Facebook” congregation. Stephens-Davidowitz shares what he learned from his studies of Google searches: I have actually spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media; they even tell Google things they don’t tell to anybody else. Google offers digital truth serum. The words we type there are more honest than the pictures we present on Facebook or Instagram. Sometimes the contrasts in different data sources are amusing. Consider how wives speak about their husbands. On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase ‘My husband is …’ are ‘the best,’ ‘my best friend,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘the greatest’ and ‘so cute.’ On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also ‘amazing.’ So that checks out. The other four: ‘a jerk,’ ‘annoying,’ . . . and ‘mean.’

            I’m not suggested that we get real by going off on one another. I’m advocating that we be more honest in sharing our doubts, our fears, our struggles and our failures. We’re the church, which means we are a community of grace, not merit; of forgiveness, not moral perfection.

            This op-ed writer encourages us to use Google as a corrective to Facebook: “Any time you are feeling down about your life after lurking on Facebook, go to Google and start typing stuff into the search box. Google’s autocomplete will tell you the searches other people are making. Type in “I always …” and you may see the suggestion, based on other people’s searches, ‘I always feel tired’ or ‘I always have diarrhea.’ This can offer a stark contrast to social media, where everybody “always” seems to be on a Caribbean vacation.”

            Or, just coming to worship on any Sunday; look around and say this in your mind: “They are as messed up as me. Everyone needs Jesus Christ as much as I do. I must belong here.”


Here’s a like to the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/opinion/sunday/dont-let-facebook-make-you-miserable.html?partner=rss&emc=rss