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Why not find a spiritual lesson in Facebook’s outage? Here are 3

Anadolu Agency via AFP

Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP - published on 10/05/21

Maybe St. Francis had a lesson to teach in Monday's woes ...

Yesterday’s Facebook network issue caused the main Facebook site to be down for hours. Other apps owned by Facebook — WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger and others — were also silent. Early reports indicate that the server problem was not the work of a security issue or hacker. 

For some, the event meant that they were just interrupted from their causal scrolling and leisurely social connections. For others, the day meant a host of issues at work, since many businesses widely use Facebook and its various properties. 

Here we have the opportunity to pause, however, and reflect on Monday’s events. Do they have anything significant to say in terms of the spiritual life?

Thought #1

Monday’s outage coincided with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. He is known by various diminutives and monikers, including “God’s fool” and “the Seraphic Doctor”; my favorite is Il poverello (“the little poor one”). Monday’s outage may well be entirely coincidental with il poverello’s feast. 

But that’s not very interesting to conclude. If, however, we are willing to allow the occasion to be providential, rather than mere coincidence, we have richer fodder for our reflection.

We might think that the poor man of Assisi was encouraging us to spend less time on our phones and more time talking to God. Or we could consider that maybe Mark Zuckerberg’s loss of billions in mere hours is a moment for us to pause and realize just how quickly all our material gains can be lost. Perhaps you’ve already drawn your own conclusions…

Thought #2

It’s often tempting to find relief or even enjoyment in another’s ill fortune. Just a brief visit to Twitter yesterday was enough to demonstrate the playful, gleeful mockery of Facebook’s troubles. Stepping back from the funny memes and gifs, though, we might ask: Do I take delight in others’ trouble or distress?

One year ago, Pope Francis published his latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti. The theological heart of that document rests on the pope’s exploration of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus’ parable summons us to rediscover our vocation as citizens of our respective nations and of the entire world, builders of a new social bond. This summons is ever new, yet it is grounded in a fundamental law of our being: we are called to direct society to the pursuit of the common good and, with this purpose in mind, to persevere in consolidating its political and social order, its fabric of relations, its human goals. By his actions, the Good Samaritan showed that “the existence of each and every individual is deeply tied to that of others: life is not simply time that passes; life is a time for interactions.”

I’m not insisting that we should feel sorry for a tech giant. Far from it! (Although, I do feel sorry for the humans behind the machines, who undoubtedly had a very tough day). However, I am suggesting that the occasion of Monday’s outage is a moment for us to reflect on how connected we are to those around us, and to heed Christ’s constant invitation to engage and love, rather than mock or ignore.

Thought #3

In order to form new habits, the best place to begin is by disrupting routine. How many people went to other websites, used different apps or joined different networks because of yesterday’s outage? Some of those responses are of course temporary, but others may very well stay.

Clearing away old routines, the schedules and patterns we rely on, is often the first step to doing something new. Maybe yesterday’s outage will be an experience that will provoke users to build better browsing habits or invest their time in social networks differently?

Monday is one day and one outage. We can let it pass as one event, or we can continue to reflect on a possible deeper meaning for our spiritual lives.

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