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The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected are Redefining Community
Author: Jesse Rice
Publisher: David C. Cook
Length: 231 pages

Writing a book about current technology is a dangerous gamble... especially when writing about the constantly evolving technological wonder known as Facebook.  Jesse Rice has undertaken this challenge with his book The Church of Facebook, running headlong in to the two problems that all writers run into when wrangling with changing technology.

First of all, Facebook has changed in many ways since this book was written. From the time I first started typing this review to the time you are reading it, there has probably been at least three updates to interface alone. The second problem is that the number of users grows almost exponentially every month - making it nearly impossible to define a "normal" experience or a "normal" user.

This is causing a conflict with me in writing this review. Church of Facebook was written to address a certain stereotype of the "average" Facebook user back in the beginning of 2009. The problem with this is that there has been research published in the second half of 2009 that indicates that this stereotype was never really that true for most people. This stereotype wasn't true about me or most of my Facebook "friends." I do know a person or two that it does apply to, but for the most part... I don't know of many people that would identify with this book.

If you think back to the beginning of 2009, many people were writing about how Facebook was becoming an obsession... people would wake up and immediately check Facebook, stay on it all day long (at least, when the boss wasn't looking), and then stay up late at night... addicted.  No real face-to-face relationships, oblivious to the needs of the hurting world around them, etc. But then a handful of research studies were published. Turns out that the people that spend the most time on Facebook also spend the most time in real-life interactions. They also give more time and money to charity.

In other words, Facebook is just a reflection of what they are in real like.  In fact... maybe even a little more real, since they don't feel the need to put on the social masks we all wear from time to time.

None of this is to say that this is bad book. On the contrary, Rice is a gifted story teller. Even if you don't identify with the stereotypical Facebook user that Rice describes, you probably know someone who does.  And if you aren't careful, you could also end up there. So be sure to read this book with an open heart to make sure you can guard yourself from becoming that Facebook addict you don't want to be.

There is really only one broad topic missing from this book. During my day  job, I work in the field of Educational Technology. Not so much the code programming end as much as the theoretical side - what tools work best in what situations in an online class, educational theory research, etc. I bring this up because I feel so many people are missing a key factor behind the popularity of Facebook.

At our core, most humans are curious creatures. We desire to learn. No matter what learning theory you believe in, they basically all say (at some point) that we learn best we we are sharing what we learn with others. The reason we like to get on Facebook and debate politics or share in detail about our day or play trivia games is because it helps us to learn about and process the world around us. Even when we are just talking about ourselves, what we are really doing is processing and learning self-awareness.

But that is probably a whole different kind of book. I am probably just a glass half-full kind of guy - where others see obsession and narcissism, I see discovery and curiosity.

Rice finishes his book with a good section on how to cautiously engage with Facebook without becoming obsessed or addicted.  Facebook addiction can become a problem if we aren't vigilant, so Rice's advice is this section serves as a good reflection activity for everyone - even if you don't feel obsessed with status updates.

By Matt Crosslin (December 30, 2009)


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