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The Facebook-era Prophet

By Emily Milner

I joined Facebook a few weeks ago. It was a panicky feeling, reminiscent of junior high, when I looked over at the “friend” list and saw zero. Zero friends! I humbly petitioned my Segullah friends to please be my Facebook friends too. And then I asked my brothers and sisters. And their spouses. And also my many cousins. And their spouses. And also my aunts and uncles, though not all of them are on Facebook. Then my dad joined, and whew! another friend. And now, having connected with everyone I’m actually connected to in real life, and reconnected with people who I like but had not kept in touch with well, I have friends! More than I realized.

And you who are my Facebook friends, I read your updates and find out how you are doing, and you read my updates too. Which I agonize over, is that dumb? I do though. When it asks “what are you doing now?” what I’m usually doing is icing my broken leg. But if I say that over and over it sounds whiny. When I say I’m making FHE treats, does that sound all self-righteous, Look at Me, we have FHE! Or when I write about all the Whitney books I’ve been reading, or the Enrichment writing class I teach, does someone on my friend list from way back read that and think, Ahh, that’s Emily for you. She hasn’t changed since high school, I guess.

But I have changed. And if those people (great people! Hello out there friends!) had interacted with me, talked with me and conversed with me, they would know that I have grown up. A little bit. For all the relief that I feel over having friends on Facebook, there’s no substitute for tangible contact. A voice, a letter, a visit. These are real. These are the substance of relationships, the times when our lives actually intersect. On Facebook we see through a glass darkly.

Which leads me to President Monson. For me, what makes President Monson a prophet for our time, for the Facebook era, is his gift with personal interaction, with the stuff of real relationships. He is always on the Lord’s errand, always following a prompting. There’s the story of how he was an apostle visiting a Samoan Church school and felt impressed to shake every student’s hand… or the tender one told by President Uchtdorf of President Monson climbing many stairs with a hurt foot so he could visit a faithful German saint. And for every story we hear, each one that reaches our ears, I suspect there are many more we never hear about. Our prophet is a master of the Real Interaction, of creating and fostering tangible, positive relationships.

When President Monson became prophet, I wondered about what his hallmark would be. President Hinckley seemed so much a man for just our time: visionary, media-savvy, wise. You could read his biography and think Ah! working on temple building throughout the world prepared him for the small temple expansion. Or aha! all that time spent developing public relations strategies for the Church made the 60 Minutes interview possible.

It is too soon to predict just what President Monson’s legacy will be on a large scale. But for me, I admire, and want to follow, the caring way he interacts with everyone around him. I need that reminder. All those interactions seem small, but they have created a disciple who follows the Spirit absolutely.

I am grateful (very grateful) for my electronic friendships. But increasingly it’s become easy for me to retreat behind a computer screen, typing away, instead of getting out and being with people. President Monson’s life continues to remind me that the people in my life need real time. A Facebook update only makes me hungry for what I really want from my friends: a nice long talk.

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

22 thoughts on “The Facebook-era Prophet”

  1. My Facebook updates are always about food and eating. I'm pretty sure people must think I weigh 300 lbs.

    I love my electronic relationships. Better than no relationships at all!

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  2. Most of my FB updates tend to be about cooking or eating. Or annoying things my kids have done (like today when the 5 yr old tried to change the 2yr old's poopy diaper! Ack!)

    I actually really like FB and blogging as a way to keep track of people. I've met a lot of good friends through blogging, and while the online stuff is nice it's even better to add in personal contact. I recently found a bunch of old friends from YW/high school and it was so fun to get back in touch–I moved away from that area when I was 17 and haven't seen anyone since. But now we're back in contact and will probably get together when we can. And today I'm pretty sure I found a girl from a family (the only one) I taught and baptized on my mission; they were illegal immigrants with no permanent address so I lost touch shortly after coming home, but now I can find them on Facebook! It's so awesome.

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  3. Not so crazy about the new facebook homepage though.

    And "what's on your mind" instead of a status statement? Should I still update that I'd been playing tag with my kids–seems more self-indulgent now that it's not specifically asking what I am up to. I think I'm going to end up with more viral marketing in my friends' updates. boor-ring.

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  4. I am not a Facebook-er. However, I do surf around a bit using my dh's account. But, I have come to somewhat the same conclusion that you have. After a few minutes looking around, I feel empty and depressed, because really, what I'm looking for isn't there. I want to actually be sitting or lounging somewhere, talking face to face with those people I'm cyberstalking. And the realization that those desired deep, heartfelt heart-to-hearts, or even those silly chat sessions aren't happening IRL recently left me instantly completely depressed. It was the weirdest episode of depression I've ever experienced: nearly instant, nearly debilitating, left me (the rarely-cries person) sobbing on my dh's chest, and a few hours later, after chatting with other women at an Enrichment activity, completely gone.

    Pres. Monson has been harder for me to "get into," so to speak than past prophets. I have a hard time connecting with his storytelling style. I love to hear Presidents Uchtdorf and Eyring, as well as Elders Bednar and Holland. Their style really connects to me. I have made it a goal to really try to focus on Pres Monson's talks in this upcoming conference, to really help me focus on him as our current prophet. I need to get over my hangup with his speaking style and focus on what the Prophet is telling me.

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  5. i just canceled my account. at first it was exciting, but then the exhilaration fizzled out and i realized that i pretty much didn't want to talk to anyone i wasn't already in contact with. ha! how's that for being a friend?

    i really enjoyed your observations about President Monson. they are a good reminder to me as i struggle to set up visiting teaching appointments.

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  6. One of the times I met President Monson in person (this was about 9 years ago), he took the time to approach me (I was playing prelude just before he was to speak at a fireside) and tell me what a great job I was doing. I turned to face him (as I kept playing) and told him thank you, and he gasped audibly (and not in any patronizing manner) and said:
    "Oh, my! You have such pretty eyes!"

    I teased my friends later that the fact I have Pretty Eyes is now Church Doctrine. 🙂

    He truly is what you described –A Prophet who cares about everyone personally; his interactions with people are positive and uplifting. My small experience with him shows that, I think…

    P.S. FB is okay, as long as it's used within reason. I ignore everything (except most friend requests) and just use it to catch up; but I can't spend too much time on there –how would I fit in my blogging!?!? 😉

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  7. Jennie, I love my electronic relationships too. Sometimes too much, I think… they consume more of my energy than the people around me.

    And FoxyJ, I just barely got connected with some mission people I love, but had lost touch with. Facebook is great that way, it's true.

    Johnna, you are like me–I'm wondering if a given update is too self-indulgent too. Maybe I'll start going with food updates like Jennie :-).

    Strollerblader, I have had a hard time appreciating President Monson's speaking style too. I was thinking and praying about it a lot, and this idea, of President Monson as the exemplar for real interaction, was what came to me, and for me it has really helped me enjoy his talks more. I also think he's his own Facebook, in that he doesn't lose track of people the way I do.

    Rebekah, I think I always need to be reminded about this. It's just too easy for me to hide. And I still have to do my visiting teaching this month, too.

    Cheryl, what a great story! I've never had a personal moment with President Monson. But I know many people have.

    And I agree: Facebook is okay within reason–I'm not saying it should be banished or anything, or decrying the sad state of the world. I just want to not neglect real interaction with the people I care about.

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  8. I like Facebook as a way of connecting with old friends, especially former ward members I'd lost touch with along the way. I've even found some buddies from high school! I can't say I spend a lot of time on FB, but I do make the occasional update, etc.

    I've made a few good friends blogging, and I greatly enjoy this community, but you're right. Face-to-face is the best. Of course, there's no reason why blog friends can't turn into "face friends", right?

    Anyway, thanks for the post. It's good food for thought. Balance is important, and that person-to-person contact is definitely part of the equation.

    =)

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  9. I like connecting with old friends and people I haven't seen in 20 years, but I kind of don't get why I would want to talk to my neighbor on FB. Couldn't we just walk out the door?

    And I don't do status updates anymore, for just the reason Johnna noted. Too self-indulgent, like anyone would really care what I was doing at this very moment!

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  10. Great post emily- jennie i am with you 99% of my updates involve food- sad- that marks the passage of my days

    I appreciate Pres. Monson's personalnes, his concern for the one- I think that is the message we have to keep no matter our medium. I for one love anything that connects us more, gives us more opportunities for influence.

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  11. I routinely "purge" my FB list. If I hadn't ever done this, I'd have over 600 "friends" by now. But in sets of fifty, whenever it starts to become too much, i delete a batch. Just deleted another 150 people from my list on Saturday.

    I have criteria that i try to adhere to. So if your spouse adds me and I don't accept his request, please don't take it personally. If your children add me, I ignore them too. If I've added you because we used to be in the same ward, stake, institute, neighborhood, work, or school, but were never close, please don't take it personally that i've deleted you. and if we currently work for the same company, and have been facebook friends, nothing against you, but i've deleted all my co-workers now.

    i just can't handle having 89 status updates to wade through every time i get online, and I've decided my facebook account isn't a peer pressure situation. So I keep who I genuinely want to keep, and let the others go. It's very liberating.

    Besides, my DH has NO criteria…other than he has to have met you. So I can always keep tabs on people that way. 🙂

    I personally love president Monson.

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  12. I don't do status updates either (except when I didn't have time to respond to every happy birthday wish), and I've been thinking of devoting some of my typical fb/blog time to calling friends (since it's ds' nap time, I can't visit). I'm itching for more face-to-face, too. Though, I have to add, thank goodness for the on-line connections when I can't get out of the house for whatever reason. I've been thrilled about new friends and reconnecting with old. Great post, Emily!

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  13. have to agree with the above poster that Oaks/Bednar is much more my style . . . . I have to REALLY try hard to get into a Monson talk. He just seems so emotional to me — more Jack Weyland than Hugh Nibley. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just that I'm not that way!

    my facebook rule is: if I would say hi to you if I saw you I will request you — I think it's a little too loose, though — I"m almost @ 400!

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  14. Emily I agree, real life time is much more important than Facebook time. After spending a little time in a RS presidency, seeing women's problems, and how much they were helped by visits I was convinced. I've been better at VT ever since. Visiting people, with true love and concern, like President Monson does, really makes a difference.

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  15. When I think of President Monson the title "The Great Visitor" always comes to my mind. I gained a testimony of him as the Lord's prophet in a surprisingly strong and needed way early on, during the solemn assembly when he was sustained as President of the Church. Since that time, I've been able to reach greater depths of understanding and appreciation as I've listened to his unique delivery of stories and doctrines. I love him, and agree with you that he is the right man to lead us now in this increasingly impersonal and chronically isolating time in our world's evolution. I want to be a great visitor too. Cyber tools are useful and meaningful, and you can't beat them for helping to make interesting new connections or reconnect with long-ago friends, but they can never fill the spaces in our lives that in-person, living, breathing, laughing, weeping, human contact is meant to.

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  16. Love this post Emily. And I agree with Geo– once I obtained a witness of Pres. Monson as the prophet I was able to find profound messages in his talks.

    I love Facebook! I've connected with college roommates and German relatives. And I have to admit that I enjoy living vicariously through some of my partying, vacationing friends.

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  17. I feel that Pres. Monson's hallmark will be service–in fact, it always has been. And personal service, just as you say. I agree that it might be much more important in the electronic age than ever–a reminder that the human touch is not administered through a keyboard. I hear you, too, with regards to the facebook updates–who knows how someone might take it. (I've grown up too, people!) Heidi, wishing she had finaled so she could justify spending $40 on a Whitney Awards dinner . . .

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  18. I'm interested in your Facebook rules, Blue and Kristine. So far I don't have so many friends that I feel the need to let some of them go, but I guess I could see it happening.

    Heidi, I wish I were going too! I really wish it, after reading the finalists. But it's the same weekend as BYU graduation, and I've got three siblings and two in-laws graduating, so I will not be able to make it. I need to read your book though; it's on my "want-to-read" list. When I finish Whitney finalists…

    Geo, the spirit during that solemn assembly was amazing. I love the title "The Great Visitor;" that's absolutely true.

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments.

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  19. I love my on-line relationships. So many of my friends, including myself, have moved to parts distant in the world. The internet allows us to still remain close and communicate even more now than we might have done before. But these relationships are with people I've had that face-to-face friendship with at some point.

    My facebook rule is that you have to actually be a friend to be on the friend list. After all, it's not an acquaintance list.

    Everyone in my family has a webcam now too. I love watching my nephew, who lives two states away, learn to sit up and crawl and do all that stuff that I'm not there for. My parents try to set it up to watch him almost daily.

    But because I live alone, there are days where the only interaction I might have with someone will be through the computer. If it weren't for the computer, I could spend the entire day alone with the thoughts in my head, and that's a scary place to be. I try to make those days few and far between though. We are social creatures. We need people.

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  20. I've made my Facebook account into a missionary tool. I discovered that there was an application that would feed my blog (in which I discuss scriptures and doctrine) to my profile and publish my posts to my friends' mini-feeds.

    I suspect that my non-member friends are much more likely to be interested in what I have to write about the gospel because they can read on their own time and can avoid the pressure of a direct conversation about religion. Of course, they may not read anything I have to say at all, but I suspect that they probaby do. (I don't suspect this because I think I'm that great, but I know that I'm curious about the things they write, so I figure they are also similarly curious about what I write.)

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