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Family before Facebook

The appeal of Facebook may be incomprehensible to some — the quick effortless way it sheds light on people’s personal lives; the claims of connecting people but the impersonal way it accomplishes this.

A teenager declared, “Don’t you know that Facebook gives us a sense of self-worth?…I have 1,000 friends on Facebook and because of my posts, I get plenty ‘likes’ every day. It makes me feel good.”

Facebook serves a need: to be liked; to be known; to be popular and accepted. It meets the need to belong to a community—even one as abstract as cyberspace where you can hide behind a veil of anonymity if you wish. Like the sons of Zebedee in today’s Gospel, Facebook fills the need to be recognised, visible, possibly assume status, and, through association, share in someone else’s glory.

In the gospel, James and John are linked solidly by their family ties to a family that nurtured their ambitions. They are introduced as “the sons of Zebedee,” a fisherman of some means.

In exemplary sibling solidarity, certain that Jesus had the authority to grant their request, the pair ask that Jesus approve their proposed seating arrangement on His right and left hand. In addition, both Zebedee and his wife amply fulfil the function of the nurturing family, supportive of their sons.

When Jesus first asked James and John to follow Him, they immediately left their father in the boat with the hired help and followed Jesus. Their mother too, ambitious for her sons’ progress, also petitioned Jesus for the most prominent places for her sons when He comes into His Kingdom (Matt 20:20). James and John are clearly driven by their family’s motivation.

Young people in Trinidad and Tobago are also driven by their families to succeed and become productive members of the society. Yet the attraction to Facebook seems to transcend even familial relations.

As the first community to which people belong, shouldn’t the family be the place where young people are supposed to be ‘liked’ and their self-worth nurtured? Yet, why do young people persistently seek out these attributes in cyberspace?

Have parents cast off their responsibilities in nurturing self-worth and instead, now entrust this task to Facebook, gang leaders and unscrupulous characters who are not motivated to communicate truth?

The disciples’ request prompts Jesus to declare, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Do we know what we are asking when we ask that the television or tablet to babysit our children who have become addicted to modern audio-visual technology, staring at the television or tablet and displaying the same symptoms as drug addicts—glazed eyes, slower heart rates, and shallow breathing.

Do we know what we are asking when we persistently demand that the latest phone technology come equipped with even more features that change the rate of communication and increase the repercussions?

Today, we are equipped to communicate more but are we in fact, engaged in bettercommunication? Or is the smartphone and the ‘Me Too’ technology being used to cause further division between the ‘haves’, the ‘have-nots’ and the ‘want-to-be’, positioned instead as symbols of our status and aspirations?

Modern technology has its place and its uses but it should never replace the role and function of the family, the first community where values are taught and self-worth constructed. Therefore our prayer should focus on the healing of families, so this institution would never abdicate its functions to modern technology and accompanying ideologies.