Lesson 3: Facebook Friends

Facebook FriendsSupposedly, I have 48 Facebook friends. I can easily pick up more by accepting the invitations that daily arrive on my e-mail, often from people I have a hard time identifying. And, of course, I can unfriend any of the 48 by simply pushing a button.

These Facebook friends are another example of modern negotiated personal relationships. However, the terms are set by Facebook. The users can use the system, if they agree to its restrictions.

My Facebook friends tell me where they are and what they are doing and feeling. I can respond by hitting the “like” button or by making a very brief and, hopefully, clever comment. I can express my emotions by using symbols on the keypad, but I cannot hug, kiss, or even touch them. In fact, I cannot engage in any prolonged or profound conversation using the options available. There is no doubt I can stay in contact over a long distance, but this is a very narrow band connection.

Most of us have given some thought to the limitations of Facebook friendship. We realize we have to give up some things in order to enjoy the long distance, immediate connection it offers. And we find there are times when a narrow band connection will do just fine. We use our cell phones to contact others via text messages rather than the spoken word, because we do not want to get involved in a prolonged conversation. We want a “yes” or “no” answer, but not a challenge.

At the same time, I don’t think there is enough thought given to exactly what is lost. Electronic communication lacks the vulnerability and accountability of face-to-face relationships. When you proclaim, “I love you” in a traditional face-to-face relationship, you must confront the person addressed day after day, at least implicitly being challenged, with “Show me!”

Technology is designed to help us get what we want, to solve our problems. It is by definition egocentric. We naturally find ourselves using it to stay connection with people just like us, but seldom to work toward a common good with those having a different position.

One of my son’s friends studies robotics. When asked by a dinner guest why he is so interested in robots, he replied it was very simple. He would much rather have a sophisticated robot to dinner than the questioner. The robot would only tell the kind of jokes he enjoys, only say things that make him feel good, and never challenge him in any way.

Obviously, Facebook friends are not robots. However, they in no way provide the checks on self-absorption provided by friends, family, and neighbors in traditional friendships. Today we prefer to call it radical individualism, but it certainly is self-absorption by traditional and Christian values.

All this is to say, I think a Christian perspective believes electronic media should supplement, but never replace, face-to-face relationships. Face-to-face relationships, such as those hopefully found in local communities and the Church, are essential for the real creative dialogue that leads to a healthy society.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    I could not agree with these comments more, but I could go further. The ‘Facebook Effect’ on all of us will be studied by sociologists to come, but several conclusions are very clear. Relationships are hard. They are supposed to be. Given the opportunity, our natural inclination is to avoid anything that is hard (for most of us). As Christians, our relationship with Christ is like a marriage and we must go through troubles together and we ultimately grow closer as we test our relationship – if we work at the relationship. Relationships pull emotional levers, and you put your vulnerabilities out there as you develop the relationship – it takes courage and dedication to do so.

    Social media allows us to commit emotional infidelity in a relationship. People say things in a text that they would never think of saying in person. Whole families sit a table in a restaurant and never talk to each other, pecking away at their smartphones while they order and eat. Parents are too busy to pull away from their phone to answer questions directly from their children. We are raising a whole generation of kids in this environment.

    How about our relationship with Christ? How many of us do not return thanks with our family before meals? How many of us are too self conscience to pray in public? How many of us would prefer to send Christ a text instead of pray, and how many would love it if Christ had a Facebook page so they could ‘friend’ him? While social media allows us to easily share pictures and comment, it is a sad substitute for a real relationship and I think people accept everything that comes our way too easily (get with the program – everyone is on it) and don’t think enough about boundaries in our relationships.

  2. Derek Halverson says:

    I’m unsure of the effects of social media. However they are perhaps a part of meeting a growing need.

    In the older generations of my home town many people never moved more than twenty miles from where they were brought home as a baby.

    That seems to be less and less the case for people. My wife moved three times growing up. In our life knowing each other it’s been college, grad school, and now I’ve been working at a job for a while. Each time a different place, entirely different people, and a need to find new friends.

    Of course even when we weren’t moving a bunch of our friends were as they chased their dreams around the world. I’ll be losing a few in the coming months this way.

    So aside from family, if it weren’t for social media I don’t think I’d have experienced what it’s like to have a friend for more than around four years. If anything I think I should have used social media more to make new friends before they’re gone.

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