The other night I had a spirited conversation with a group of my “real-life friends” about social networking, the on-line community and their effect on friendships. By “spirited” I mean that I sat there like a deer in the headlights while my friends passionately shared their utter distain for all-things-Facebook and any relationship remotely related to typing on a keyboard.
One of my friends described her now defunct Facebook experience as “intrusive” and “shallow.” She questioned how I could even consider spending my time there. She didn’t come right out and say it, but she hinted that there is a spiritual element to it. A sign of the times. Something born and bred in the depths of hell, disguising itself as an angel of light. Something from which we must protect the children. She was dead serious.
The other friend just kept shaking her head repeating, “I just think its sad.”
This got me thinking…Is it “evil” or even “sad” to seek connections with others through the computer? Is the auditory or visual connection more honorable, more valid, more fulfilling, than the written one? Does the presence of on-line friendships preclude or inhibit the developing of “real life” friendships? And what about the phone? What about hand-written letters and cards? Neither of those is face-to-face, yet they don’t seem to get the same bad rap as internet friendships…why is that?
I’m not sure, but I want to explore it. So for today, here is what I do know:
I know that as a stay at home mom of small children, my connections with other humans are limited and have been limited for the past 13 years. Period. Even if I wanted to, I can’t spend time every day or even every week nurturing face-to-face contact with my friends. I’ve tried. And it turns out, most of my friends—my real life friends—cannot either. When we do try to get together for coffee or dinner, it takes an act of congress to settle on a date due to conflicting schedules, family and work obligations. If we get together with kids, we can hardly finish a thought, much less have that deep heart connection we desire. It may not always be this way, but it is right now. This is my reality.
I know that as a woman who has relocated twice in the last 14 years to places where I knew no one, I’ve gone through periods of loneliness, friendlessness (if that’s even a word) and surface-level friendships, as I sought to find and build those rare, but essential, heart-felt connections in new cities with new women. It was during those times that I cherished most the mobility of a phone and a computer, where I could connect long distance with my closest friends in other cities while seeking friends in my new one. Had I relied on face-to-face contact only, I would have shriveled up and died emotionally.
I know that as a writer, there is no truer version of myself than the one I express in the written word. Far from hiding behind a façade, writing causes me to thoughtfully and artfully express the deepest places of my heart. From e-mails to blog posts to status updates, what manifests on the computer screen—for me—is the most complete version of my soul. And unlike verbal communication, where unfiltered, unedited thoughts often pour out of my mouth prematurely, writing provides an opportunity to select the best words to communicate my heart. I know this isn’t true for everyone. For some, writing is deliberate and awkward, whereas speaking is natural and free-flowing. But for me, it’s just the opposite. If you are getting an e-mail or a blog comment from me, it is more often than not, sincere, well-thought out and an effort to connect with you.
I know that as a minister of the Gospel (who happens to possess a gift of and love for writing,) never have I been in such a prime position as I am today, to be able to spread the message of Christ around the world with the click of a button. Prior to starting my blog in March 2008, if I wanted to publish an article…
~I had to seek an appropriate publication
~write the article to the exact word count, tone and subject requirement of that particular publication
~mail a hard copy of the article to the publication
~wait a minimum of six weeks before notification of acceptance or rejection of the article
~and then wait another six months to a year before seeing the article in print.
~And never, ever would I receive one word of feedback from the readers I touched.
On the other hand, investing time in my blog and on Facebook has afforded me the amazing opportunity to publish immediately the message God is giving me, immediately receive feedback, and immediately and directly respond to the readers I am touching. I think that’s wonderful.
I know that as an author seeking book publication, the on-line community affords me the opportunity to build “a platform” from the convenience of my kitchen. Whether I like it or not, publishers insist that new authors have name recognition—an audience anticipating the release of the first book. For wannabe authors like me, the alternative to using blogs and social networking sites to build this platform is to go out personally and establish a speaking career. The latter would require me to take time to market myself as a women’s conference speaker, take the time to prepare several speaking sessions, and take the time to travel away from my family on a regular basis. Which is better for me in this season of life? To spend a few hours each morning nurturing on-line friendships around the globe before my children get out of bed? Or hopping on a plane or in a car every Friday and kissing my children goodbye for the weekend as I minister face-to-face? I know many women who choose face-to-face, and that’s totally cool with me, but I choose (right now) to be home.
I know as a multifaceted human being with hundreds of things screaming for my attention, anything and everything can throw me off balance if taken to an extreme. Sure, I could spend hours and hours on Facebook accumulating hundreds of “friends” and leaving witty and shallow comments on their status updates, while my real-life friendships starve. But in the exact same way, I could spend hours and hours on the phone while my laundry piles up, my children wait for me to push them on the swings and I do absolutely nothing to progress the Gospel. I know, because I have.
So maybe the issue is not on-line friendships versus face-to-face friendships, but it is seeking wisdom and moderation in all things. It’s realizing that, because circumstances are constantly changing, what is best for this season may not always be best for all seasons. It’s understanding, because we are uniquely gifted, what is best for me may not be best for you. It’s asking God daily where He wants us to spend our valuable resource of time and then being faithful to walk where He leads.
There is so much more to say on this topic. Stay tuned.