Fellowship and Facebook
Without question, the age of the internet has ushered in social change on a massive and widespread level. Our period in history has been aptly dubbed the “information age,” as we have upwards of 100 million websites (quite literally) at our fingertips at any given moment. As the World Wide Web expanded from a United States Department of Defense experiment in the 70’s into the sprawling and diverse superhighway that it is today, we saw the advent of communication tools like email and instant messaging software, soon to be followed by social networking websites like Facebook and Myspace. Today, there are over 241 million distinct profiles on Myspace alone (that’s four times the population of the United Kingdom!). One could rightly argue that we are more connected than ever before, armed with the potential to network and communicate in unprecedented ways.
Has the internet made us less alone?
Surely with all of this technology in our hands, with this groundbreaking ability to network with our friends, extended family, and co-workers., the depth of our relationships has improved in equally astounding ways. I mean, in a matter of five minutes I can send a message to my buddy in Oregon, read what’s going with my cousin in Northern Ireland, and send a digital birthday cake to my mom (she just joined Facebook last week). I’ve got upwards of 300 “friends” on my Facebook account, and I am constantly updated with what’s going on in their lives via up-to-the-minute “news feeds.” How could I be this connected and have any relational voids in my life? How could I ever feel unloved, disconnected, or alone?
Obviously, I’m being a bit facetious.
The fact of the matter is this: online social networking fosters shallow, two-dimensional social interactions, creating an illusion of connectedness while largely failing to meet our most basic relational needs. In lieu of face-to-face interaction nuanced with nonverbal communication, text-based online interfacing affords little opportunity for meaning and depth in conversations. Furthermore, on sites like Facebook and Myspace, the bulk of communication is done publicly (i.e., anyone can read the things that one person says to another), which only propagates the amount of shallow, relatively insignificant communication that occurs.
I am not implying that sites like Facebook are inherently evil, or that it’s wrong to use them as a tool to stay connected. Social networking sites have the potential to be very useful tools, but they need to be put into a healthy perspective. With the widespread use of high speed, broadband connections, we are spending more time online than ever before. In the last three years alone, the amount of time teens spent online increased by a whopping 41%. Clearly, there is potential for an unhealthy reliance on social networking sites to meet our social needs, particularly among the younger, tech-savvy generation.
The bottom line: in an age of digital communities which create an illusion of connectedness, let’s continue to proactively pursue deep and meaningful relationships. Let’s grab coffee with friends as often as we chat with them online. Encourage your son or daughter to have their friends over for an afternoon, rather than spending hours in front of a screen chatting with them online. Let’s make time for each other, expend real energy on each other, and never lose sight of the fact that God designed us to live life out in community, encouraging and building up one another in the love of Christ