The church or Facebook: Which is community-lite?
By Daniel Miller, on 16 January 2015
In The Glades it is very common for people to imply that organisations such as the church represent genuine communities which are now being undermined and replaced by social media such as Facebook which instead represent a kind of community-lite. But these same villagers produce evidence which is entirely contrary to this claim. As one parishioner noted `The church put on a Facebook page, a lot of people then did become friends with the church. Then I realised how many people are actually on there that I know and I see every Sunday. (Have you got to know them better now through Facebook?) Yeah. A lot better. Normally, you don’t really discuss what jobs they do or what social activities they do. You meet them in a church setting, talk about church related things.’ She then notes that thanks to Facebook she has come to realise who is related to who and who she knew about through other channels Another villager noted `When my husband had his heart attack last year I put on that he’d had a heart attack, it was amazing how many people sort of commented on it, wanted to know how he was, when he had his heart operation, quite a few of them were praying for him, that sort of thing. That’s nice cos I thought I’ve only ever known you through Farmville, interested enough to comment and think about it. A lot of the people I know are Christian people.’
On many occasions people who might once have come directly to the clergy for support, post about themselves feeling depressed or betrayed by a friend on Facebook. It is only if they clergy have friended them on Facebook that they come to hear about these problems and can respond by calling round. A third woman likes the fact that her Facebook mixes the people she knows from church with others. She finds Facebook much more effective than going on websites as a means to reminder herself about church activities but also to share some of this news with others and possibly get them to thereby become more involved in church activities – since she works on several committees organising such events. She also does this by periodically using a hand knitted Christian `lamb’ to pose by religiously related images such as festive meals for photos she posts on Facebook.
What I found was that there was a core group to each church that were very close to each other and accord with our ideals of community. But for most of those who just attend services it is the church rather than Facebook that in some ways has been community-lite, because interaction was limited to church related issues. By comparison Facebook is much more holistic and makes visible the interconnectedness of people, especially people living in the same village, linking to other aspects of their lives. But more than that, these quotations suggest that for most people neither is sufficient, but the two work surprisingly well in tandem. If one is looking for interaction that approximates to our idea of community then it is the way Facebook builds upon going to church that seems most effective.
This would certainly not be true of more evangelical churches in places such as Trinidad or indeed perhaps in any of the other fieldsites. Elsewhere the church is highly integrated into people’s family and social life and barely leaves them alone. It may reflect another finding of this research which is that in The Glades the church, especially the established Anglican church, reflects a much more English tradition where it is quite circumspect about getting involved in people’s private lives. I recall a conversation with a vicar about whether even texting to remind people of an event might be considered too intrusive. So once again the issue seems to be one of Englishness, but in this case not the Englishness of social media but the much more established Englishness of the traditional English church.