Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. . . Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
I have long thought off and on about the interplay between the online and material worlds. The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other devices allow us to easily transport from the terrestrial world to the virtual world and back again. In cyberspace we can recast ours identities and literally become our own avatars. My thoughts on the topic were recently rekindled when I saw the following post on Facebook, “why do we talk to one another more on Facebook than we do on church?” As I thought about the answer to this question, a three word phrase came to mind, the investment required. It cost little in time or effort to post on Facebook or send out a tweet on Twitter. It cost even less, literally a few seconds, to “like” a Facebook post or to retweet a tweeton Twitter. Communicating in this way does not require the interaction of someone else, although that may be the desired outcome. Depending upon your online reach, you can “speak” to hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously. How you communicate is under your control. It is quick, painless, convenient and sanitary. Online interaction is the combat equivalent of a drone missile strike. The initiator of the strike is safe, miles away from the target and strike is often surgically precise. Even if the target is missed, the distance protects the initiator from the carnage.
Old fashion face to face human interaction is quite another matter. It is the warfare equivalent of hand to hand combat. The parties are eyeball to eyeball, belly to belly, engaged. It requires an investment of time, perhaps our most precious commodity and scarcest resource. (Am I the only one who has been accused on walking past someone without speaking because I was rushing off to do something else?) Face to face interaction requires a high degree of engagement. The other party knows immediately if you’re paying attention or not. Face to face communication introduces risks and a loss of control. You intended to talk about one topic, but the other party introduces another topic that you had not planned to discuss. This new topic may knock on one of your emotional doors that you would rather have kept locked. Do you open the door or ignore the knocking? You are more exposed in face to face interaction. People get more a glimpse of the real you, not some carefully crafted online facsimile. There are people I know in the material world who also have an online presence and I have found myself questioning if they are in fact the same person.
Scripture has a lot to say about coming together in community. Jesus Christ himself said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). As Christians we can connect in ways today the writer of the book of Hebrews could never have imagined when he penned the words, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. . .” (Hebrews 10:25a). There are scores of online communities or “tribes” – - using the word du jour. I am engaged in a number of online communities and find these interactions powerful as I am able to engage with people from all over the world to find inspiration, encouragement and expertise.
I am not decrying the use of social media. I love it! It is a primary tool for how I share my thoughts with the world. But a quote applied to money can also be applied to social media, “it makes a good servant, but a poor master.” Online interactions cannot be substitutes for in the flesh interaction and relationships. Many active in social media largely recognize this, which has spanned a new term, “meetup.” A meetup is an in person meeting of parties who typically interact through social media. Regardless if you’re heavily active in social media, scheduling or allowing for more spontaneous “meetups” in your life is always a good thing.
So back to the question posed in the title of the post, “does social media enhance or worsen relationships?” You’ve read my thoughts; I would love to read yours. Please add your comments to keep the conversation going.