The reception desk was staffed with a team of bright, smiley 27-year-olds when I walked into Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA. They were hip, casual, and optimistic. After receiving credentials, we met Alex, a friend of a friend, and our "in" to FB HQ.
Accompanied by a small team from my church on a mission expedition to the San Francisco Bay Area, we followed Alex to a corral with rows of bikes. To traverse the complex of buildings, we gleefully biked like kids, calling them "Mark's bikes," a shout out to CEO Zuckerberg.
Like it's own city, the Menlo Park hub has everything, and it's all free. An employee will find:
A sense of optimism permeated the grounds. There was a feeling that "we're changing the world." It seemed less a company and more a cause, nearly religious in nature.
An interactive map of the globe spanned a wall in one building. A Facebook employee led a tour of visiting executives and pointed to the map. "Here you can see a visual of our global reach and impact. Notice our explosive growth in the Middle East."
In another building was an interactive display with a collection of phones, making the point that regardless of the device or location of the user, Facebook was connecting people like never before in human history. The display used phrases like, "for the common good," "problem-solving the world's great challenges," "equal access for all," and "create understanding between people."
That was 2015.
Now in 2018, we see that the tech giant's potential for good has been matched by its capacity for evil. We've seen the spread of misinformation and manipulation. We know that personal information has been sold and stolen. We've seen media platforms driven by greed for ad revenue. Research tells us the capacity for social media to leave us feeling depressed.
What did I learn from my Facebook tour? Our best intentions often prove misguided or even subversively malicious.
Babel was a symbol of the world's greatest human ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurship. But under the ambitious project was pride and god-like aspiration.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Men become tools of their own tools." Our machines tend to start with noble intentions. But history reveals a pattern of our best plans twisted and bent. As Martin Luther put it, we are plagued by sin's gravity, "life curved in on self." It's not the tool that's the real issue, but the human heart.
How shall we use our tools?
With Humility: We repent of our tendency to deify our efforts and attempt to do God's work for him. We confront ego, pride, and greed rooted in our hearts.
With Wisdom: We are prudent and wise as we use our creations. Why am I using this? How should I use it? When and how much?
With Selflessness: We use our tools to benefit others. Not for vain self promotion , personal pleasure, or mindless consumption. How can we use our tools to praise and thank others? To communicate our heart, faith, and values? To confront the greatest needs? To bless our neighbors?
And if we become tools of our tools, we stop using them.