Through a Social Network, Darkly

A friend of mine from college passed away this week, after a long struggle with cancer. Hers was a sad passing (she was way too young) and a happy one (she’s free from pain now). I have many fun memories of her, and though I hadn’t seen her in 8 years, we kept in touch somewhat over Facebook.

She’s one of my first acquaintances to pass away in The Facebook Era, and she embraced the technology. She shared her struggles with her 700 Facebook friends, and she posted pictures of herself as the treatments took her hair and the cancer took her vitality. Her Wall was full of her cheerfulness in the face of adversity. Her Wall has also been covered with prayers and well-wishes for months, giving us all insight into just how many lives this woman has touched.

I have witnessed closer friends suffer from similar diseases, but never from the same vantage point as Facebook offered.

Let me step back for a moment to say that this is not a pity post.

The truth is, without Facebook, I never would have known what my friend was going through—it probably would have been months before I found out about her passing at all, so slowly does the grapevine spread news among long-disbanded circles of friends.

Without Facebook, I would have very little ongoing contact with or cognizance of hundreds of people about whom I genuinely care and am interested.

With Facebook, I’m able to at least casually follow their lives and thoughts, their ups and downs, and maintain a bit of connection with them. Sometimes that connection deepens as circumstances of life change—but I would only know about those changes because they are shared on the social network.

I’m not trying to make Mark Zuckerberg out to be a seer (an honor I’ve already bestowed on Steve Jobs), but I can envision heaven working very similarly. We’ll have much, much larger networks of people we love and care about, and I hope we’ll constantly be at least passively aware of each other. Whether that is made possible through some kind of technology, spiritual communication, or expanded consciousness, I’m not sure, but I love the idea that Facebook could be giving us a glimpse into heavenly networks of relationships.

I also love the idea that our Father in Heaven can be aware of the lives and prayers of all of His children simultaneously, and have often wondered how (and even if) it is possible. Thinking of my prayers as Wall posts in the heavenly News Feed is as apt a metaphor as I could ever come up with. A perfect network would allow for real-time scanning and response, which is what we all hope heaven is capable of with regards to our prayers.

A perfect social network would also allow for perfect communication of our thoughts and hearts. This is an issue that technologists at Twitter and Facebook grapple with—the importance of identity, and providing users with a safe place to share and bare their souls. I’ve heard Zuckerberg speak several times, and one of his main points of emphasis is that the trend is toward more sharing; oversharing is good. He believes that as his and other social networks improve, we won’t have as much incentive to hide pieces of ourselves and our lives.

It’s a beautiful idea.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

I hope my friend is happy and free from pain and worry, and I’m very grateful that Facebook granted me the opportunity to share some connection with her. I’m also grateful that she was brave enough to share her experiences with her Facebook friends. And if there’s cross-compatibility between her celestial social network and our earthly one, I hope she Likes this post.

Comments

  1. Kyle, this might be the best thing I’ve ever read on a blog.

  2. But do you want everyone commenting on your prayers (on the Wall feed)?

  3. Great, post. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts!

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Excellent thoughts.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I came to FB late, but I’ve really enjoyed it. That capacity to allow us to keep in touch with even casual and geographically distant friends is amazing. And I like your wall post prayer metaphor. I too have often wondered how God could possibly pay attention to all of those prayers said near-simultaneously from around the world, but envisioning it that way made it sort of make sense to me.

  6. Wow, Kyle. Beautiful… I love the analogy, and will be thinking of this as I go through my day.

  7. Thanks Kyle! I appreciated how you wove your tale of a distant friendship with the power of social networking. A great lesson on the importance of staying connected with any means possible!

  8. I like this post.

  9. Brilliant, Kyle. Very thought-provoking.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    This might help your analogy a little bit: KJV “through a glass, darkly” is archaic for “in a mirror indirectly.” (Corinth was famous for its bronze mirrors in antiquity.) So the contrast is between seeing in a miror indirectly versus actual, physical face-to-face communication. Keeping in touch via FB on our computer screens is indeed rather like seeing in a mirror indirectly.

  11. As a Mormon and a Facebook employee, I thoroughly, thoroughly like this post.

  12. Chris Gordon says:

    Best argument for social networking I’ve heard, particularly in the face of so much curmudgeoning on the subject.

    To give my own anecdote, we’ve got a running joke in our family were we refer to random re-establishing of contacts to be “A Facebook miracle!” As a particularly meaningful example, I have aunts, uncles, and cousins who, through a breakdown in relations between their end of the family and my father, I don’t know. I’d never met them, even when things were warmer. My father’s passed now and the incentive to build or maintain contacts with them would have died with them, but for Facebook.

    Now, I’ve got an aunt and a cousin whom I’ve never had a meaningful interaction with in person with whom I regularly share expressions of love and affection as we share pictures of our families and thoughts about our lives–both mundane and “Internet profound.”

    In short, I’ve come to “Like” Facebook. I recognize the validity of those arguments that we need to preserve the value of genuine face time or even phone time, and I don’t argue that Facebook and other forms of social media have their potential pitfalls. But I still think the benefits can be stronger.

    I’m curious, Kyle, as to whether your friend’s Facebook page is still up? I’ve got a Facebook friend who’s been gone over a year now and her family maintains her account. It’s full of expressions of love and memory. I’ve not decided how I feel about that, but I was wondering if you have a comment?

  13. This is wonderful.

  14. Kyle, I don’t know why, but I’m almost in tears over this. Sharing people lives–I can’t imagine of more apt metaphor for Heaven.

  15. Facebook is the only true and living social network on the face of the Earth.

  16. Thanks, Kyle. Very touching and a commentary on how the world has changed in only a few years.

  17. Since we spent all of our marriage in and around the military, we had good friends all across the country and in Europe and Asia when my wife passed this spring. If it weren’t for Facebook, there is no way I could have let all of them know of the news. In contrast, some of our friends who aren’t on Facebook are still finding out. I have kept her account active, and every once in a while people will post their feelings to her, and sometimes to me. I find it helps keep her memory alive.

  18. As others have stated, this is truly a great work of art.

  19. Kyle – This is a beautiful post. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.

    I share many of your same thoughts about the wonderful blessings of Facebook/social networking, etc… I probably reserve some of my more ‘heavenly’ thoughts about modern technology, for fear I might be seen a bit over enthusiastic. But I will concur, that I clearly recognize the incredible manner in which such connections are able to be made, and developed — that bless our lives. I am the recipient of many of these types of relationships. Also, I see that this is changing how we relate to one another in the ‘real’ world. In the opposition of all things, this type of connecting truly swings to the ‘miraculous’, in the potential to do good! ~tDMg

  20. SteveP,

    Kyle, I don’t know why, but I’m almost in tears over this.

    I was in full control until the scripture passage.

  21. This is wonderful. Thank you.

  22. Love this article. I’m serving as a youth leader now, and fb is my salvation – helping me know what my girls are up to. Thanks for sharing this great perspective.

  23. That’s a great insight, Kevin. Did Paul see Facebook??? (that’ll be the next post)

    Chris Gordon, I think CS Eric answered your question (and maybe Petra could answer it further). My friend’s page is still up, and as far as I’m concerned, is there any reason to take it down ever? Besides the page’s emotional value to friends and family, I can see the network actually getting *more* interesting as it houses dynamic pages for people who have passed.

  24. Nice post Kyle. I have a friend who passed away a couple of years ago. It is nice to go to her wall. People often go and write they miss her, especially on her birthday. I think when everyone is so far away from each other it is nice to be able to go to a place of remembering. We can’t all go to a physical grave site.

  25. Agreed. The connections I have re-established through FB have been very edifying.

  26. I just learned a good friend from grad school joined the church after I wandered onto her FB profile. Although I played no role in her conversion (“Bad member missionary!”), it was thrilling to learn the news, and I probably would have never heard about it without Facebook.

  27. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    I like the idea of keeping a deceased person’s Facebook page open. All their survivors could keep the lost loved one listed as a friend, sort of in a tribute or memorial. It’s almost like a way to keep them alive in a sense, like saying “even thought they’re gone they’re still my friend.” It’s a moving idea.

  28. When my mother died, it had been seven months since I’d seen her, but I’d received letters from her and sent them to her weekly or so. In the days after receiving word of her death, which sometimes felt unreal, the idea popped into my weary head that I could the bridge the separation between us just as I’d happily done these several months by writing her a letter. It was a nonsensical idea I immediately knew: I didn’t know the new address, and the local post office forwarded nothing in any direction closer to where she was. Now it’s IP packets instead of paper sheets that we wish could reach where we can’t.

  29. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Another friend or loved one has joined FB? Welcome to Heaven!

    Your riends or loved ones haven’t joined FB yet in spite of your gentle invitations? Be patient and back off. They have their agency. Perhaps they’ll never choose to join this “glimpse into heavenly networks of relationships.” However, I truly rejoice when they do!

    Great post, Kyle M.

  30. Mommie Dearest says:

    FB isn’t necessarily heavenly for someone with trust issues

  31. Steve Evans says:

    MD, neither is heaven.

  32. For all those with questions about what happens to accounts when the owner passes away: Facebook’s official policy is that the treatment of the accounts are up to the family members. If the family members want the account removed, they can contact us and we’ll remove it. If they’d prefer to leave it up, we can “memorialize” an account, which means that it remains visible, and has an open wall for friends to post on, but the privacy is automatically set to “friends only” and it will stop appearing in “People You May Know” suggestions and other things like that. If you want an account memorialized, check out the Help Center for the contact process:

    https://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=150486848354038

    Of course, many families just choose to leave the account as it was, which is fine too.

  33. Great to know, thanks Petra

  34. Thanks for this, Kyle. I’ve had similar thoughts about how the ability to keep in touch and connect with so many people feels like a bit of heavenly foreshadowing. I know social media isn’t for everyone, and that it has its downsides, but this post captures really beautifully its benefits and why I personally love it.

  35. DowneyDouble says:

    Facebook is awesome for introverts like me with friends and family far flung around the globe. Though FB may draw out narcissistic tendencies from those of us who have them (me!), it is still the best way for me to at least keep “ongoing contact with or cognizance of hundreds of people about whom I genuinely care and am interested.” (Well said, Kyle!)

    I hope there is some uber-advanced version of FB in heaven so all us Telestial -ites can keep in touch with our Terrestrial and Celestial friends!

  36. Thanks Kyle for a great post! It had me alternatively laughing (I too venerate Steve Jobs as a seer, the technology that he has envisionex is nothing short of revolutionary!!) and crying. FB has been such a blessing to us. We moved 150 miles from home, family, and friends 3 months ago. And yet our daily lives are still closely entwined with those we love thru FB, and so the distance has never been a factor and we’ve felt very little of the missing or loneliness. The truth of the matter is, we have MORE contact on FB than we do simply living in the same town. Thanks also for a nice perspective. We had a stake prez who told the youth they shouldn’t be on social networking sites. And yet when I see how these same youth (the rebellious ones I guess lol) use FB as a tool for sharing, for supporting one another, and for MISSIONARY WORK, I see what a blessing appropriate use of discernment and agency are.

  37. Kyle, your post was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I am guilty of being a bit of a luddite when it comes to social media because it seems easy for events as you describe to become conflated into the brand that Facebook has built, and thereby just another research tool for all the corporate interests that their brand infers.

    But your experience speaks much about how the human spirit can transcend such contexts. People are sincere in their caring for others, even when it is within an online marketing apparatus. And miracles, by definition, defy all brands.

    Part of me wants to fight this. Because so much online interaction seems like affection via mouse click. I don’t like the idea of my friendships becoming data entry, and I don’t like what Marshall McLuhan pointed out about people reading ads for things that they already own… being that they do so to be reassured that they made the right purchase. This is a problematic notion when when we have 750 million users devoting a portion of their brains to persona manufacture and varying levels of PR. Need we unintentionally think of ourselves as ‘brands’ and our friends/family/tribe as ‘markets’? The scene in The Truman Show where Ed Harris strokes a giant TV broadcasting Jim Carrey in a fatherly way is emblematic of the pitfall here.

    But the example of your friend is difficult to refute. Perhaps the question of cybernetics does extend to seer stones and veils in the Lord’s cosmology, and social networking isn’t necessarily a counterfeit of those ways of ‘seeing’. Perhaps this follows Bushman’s notion that folk magic served as a bit of a preparatory Priesthood for Smith, and I should be less wary of the missing limb syndrome attendant to owning a smart phone because eventually I will be tied to the urim & thummim mentioned in Rev. 2:17 anyway.

    Either way, you’ve given me much to think about. Thank-you.

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