My initial reaction, I have to admit, was a rather severe bit of selfish annoyance.
You see, in taking what he called an “indefinite fast from the world of single-serving friendships,” my friend was all but severing the final tenuous string that bound us as companions. I can’t imagine when the next time I’ll be able to make it down to Key West, and he has absolutely no reason to make the long journey up to East Texas. I will make every effort to keep in touch via email and handwritten letters. But I don’t know if he’s planning to continue using the former, and I’m unsure how often I’ll be able to keep up with the latter. The world has changed.
Still, I am frustrated… not only with my friend, but with the all too common predisposition to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
You often hear about the dangers of social media, including: narcissism, wasted time, envy of the lives of others, lack of integrity or the temptation to restart unhealthy relationships.
Of course, these are all concerns, and you need to consider them in terms of what role social media has in your life. But I don’t think social media is dangerous. I think we are dangerous.
We don’t need social media to sin. Social media, in fact, reveals our character. If I think too highly of myself, lack self-control, or lack integrity, these will be visible in my Facebook posts.
So don’t blame social media for your issues.
Too often Christians are the laggards, fearful and unsure about new opportunities. We are also the ones quick to call out the implications of sin and temptation in realms of human advance. But what if we thought carefully and constructively from the get-go?
Rather than envy your friends’ accomplishments or adventures, rejoice with them. When I see posts from a friend in Paris, or about my little sister’s new baby, or a former classmate who lives in Austin having just run a marathon, I am happy for them. Seek God’s grace to “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
Also, I believe we need the accountability of the crowd.
We have different pictures of what “accountability” looks like. But these days, it’s various people and groups demanding that the person they know is the same one, whether at work, on campus, at family gathering or in a bar.
When I first got on Facebook eight years ago, I was only able to because I worked at a college. My peers and elders could not get an account at first. As they joined, I was pulled and torqued into more integrity in relationships as I needed all my stories to line up. I was not radically different when with different people, but Facebook has forced me to be consistent with different areas of my life. As a result, I am more at peace.
There is a temptation to share more positively than we ought, to make our lives look better on Facebook than they really are. But as Christians we know and accept that we’re insufficient, that we’re prone to selfishness. So I need to be honest with that, in an appropriate way, even online.
If I snap at my kids, I don’t need to go to my Facebook friends as if they’re the world’s largest confessional booth. But I can be honest with, “I’m not the father I wish I was,” or “Being a dad is really hard work.” These little lines help all of us acknowledge life isn’t all sunshine and puppy dogs.
Social media helps us love other people better. We are able to keep in touch with many more people. Of course, critics are quick to say, “But how deep are those relationships? Aha! Gotcha!”
At the least, social media creates a wealth of small talk relationships that can dip down into deeper topics more quickly.
I know when people are really sick, when there are major life changes, or when someone goes radio-silent for a while, I can pop them a message, ring them up on the ol’ landline, or even drop by those who are in my zip code. When we do interact more personally and directly, I can leap over the chit-chat and get to the heart of the matter.
Plus, social tools help us serve others more efficiently. We can find out who needs meals, who’s moving, who needs a new refrigerator, and then we can help each other out.
We are now visible and accessible. Gone are the days when someone entered “church” by walking through the sanctuary doors. Today, the Church lives beyond the sanctuary walls — and that’s good because far too many people today wouldn’t be caught dead in a pew. Now, the life of the Church is at least partly visible and public via other interactions, including those on social media.
Social media, for all its benefits and harm to our lives and character, will always be what we make it.
Twitter and Facebook aren’t the danger here — the danger lies with us and only us. So let’s use it to become better… better individuals, better friends, better servants, and better followers of Christ.