Book review: The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice

Posted Aug 02, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Kenetha J. Stanton


Despite the title, The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community, Jesse Rice’s book explores the overall changes taking place in social interaction in a way that is even larger than the church. However, he also does a great job of addressing how these overarching changes impact congregational life.

Rice uses multiple examples from the natural world to demonstrate his basic three-part premise: 1) forces exist that can create spontaneous order by rapidly synchronizing even a large population, 2) the creation of spontaneous order can cause novel and unpredictable effects, and 3) these effects will force the population to adapt their behavior in order to accommodate the new spontaneous order that has been created. Rice then outlines the ways in which Facebook has functioned as a force that is creating a new spontaneous order, having unexpected effects, and causing people to adapt to these effects to function more effectively in the new order.

Rice suggests that this newly created order is changing our neurobiology, our perception and expression of identity, the way we interact with one another in relationships, our expectation and sense of community, and more.

While Rice doesn’t hesitate to note the downside of these changes, he offers a balanced view of the upside as well. Even when addressing pitfalls, he focuses more on how we can adjust our interaction with the technology to mediate negative effects. His recurring theme is that making conscious, intentional decisions about our interactions with technology is the best way to ensure its beneficial impact on us.

I found his analysis to be insightful and thought-provoking, and it prompted me to re-evaluate the ways that I have been using Facebook (and other new media) to assess whether the effects of my use on myself and on my relationships are the effects that I desire. This re-evaluation has prompted a number of changes in my use of new media as I am creating a more intentional method of interaction, and I believe this is already having a positive impact.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the phenomenon of Facebook. It is a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the topic, and I would especially encourage anyone who works with Facebook and new media in the context of congregational life to read it. Rice’s arguments are convincing, easy-to-read, and supported by research. Although the book does not include a discussion guide, the content is well suited to small groups, and the final chapter leaves readers with simple suggestions for considering ways to change our interactions.

The book is available from the publisher and at local and online booksellers. Jesse Rice also has a blog based on The Church of Facebook and (appropriately) a Facebook page for the book.

Kenetha J. Stanton, the research and administrative assistant for the New Media Project, is also a trained librarian.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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