Balancing God and Life Part 14: Are On-Line Friends Real Friends? Here’s What I Think
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.
I believe there is good and bad in all things, you have chosen to use the Internet for a good purpose and for good reasons. Maybe your real friends are just behind the times and don't embrace technology the way you do. Like your life, mine is very hectic (it doesn't get a whole lot better as your children get older, they somehow get busier!) Often times, the only way my real friends and I keep up with each other's activities is through e-mail and Facebook. Look, Facebook can't be that bad, for years my cousins and I were searching for our Ohio cousins and we found you on Facebook, imagine that! Powerful tool there…anyway, Sandy, I just wanted you to know that you do reach real people, like me, who look forward to your posts, even though I don't take the time to tell you. You have quite a God-given talent and are very creative in your use of it.
Keep 'em coming! Take care.
Thanks! I know for myself that during my adoption my on-line friends "got me" versus my real time friends not really understanding. That was a season of my life where I spent almost every waking moment stalking the forums and blogs. And the support I got and gave I believe was genuine and sincere. That was then, this is now.
I have maintained some of those friendships over the last couple of years and I do believe they are sincere friendships.
As a single mom of a preschooler who works full time at a demanding job, my ability to connect face to face is tough. If I only rely on that, I would live a very lonely and friendless existence. It's just the reality.
While I would really like to nurture some of the friendships I have with more face time, it's just hard right now.
Honestly, I have some friends who we either email or text daily. I feel more connected to them because we reach out to one another DAILY and they know what's going on versus some of my more "meaningful" face to face relationships. And thre are times when things do get lost in "translation" as mood is difficult to "write" — especially in text message. But these friendships seem to be more resilient and a little less judgemental.
Whether it is a sign of the times or not, I think that it is a sign of the times that women are finding other ways of connecting with other women during a season of their lives when otherwise they would be very isolated and alone. So if technology has allowed me the blessing and privilege of connecting with others and vice versa….I think it's a good thing.
Sandy, I tend to agree with you and relate to your position. I need adult contact, and sometimes my laptop is the best way to get it! While I do see facebook as a potential "waste of time" to get caught up in being fake and shallow and playing endless games, I use it to keep up my friendships, reconnect with old friends, and share life with family and friends that live far away. I have reconnected with a friend from middle school and now I consider her a close friend, we get together, our kids play together, she encourages me as a mom and encourages me in our shared faith. Without facebook, our friendship would've remained a memory from our awkward years! =) I've made some new friends and I've had the opportunity to share Christ with people I otherwise would have never knew existed! I enjoy people and getting to know people. And in this phase of life with 4 kids 6 and under, the blogger/facebook world allows me all kinds of friendships some are just fun, some run deep. It's all about your key word, BALANCE! I appreciate your thoughts on this because there are some who don't "get it" and sometimes make me feel bad about the way I spend what little time I have to myself. And I agree with Joan, your blog reaches REAL people every time you post! I am one of them too!
good post Sandy…balance in all things with being over the top about our Lord. This is where I think some people judge where they maybe not understand. My sis also adopted from Uganda and she has met some of her closest friends who could relate to her experience thru her blog. The Lord can use all things for His glory!
"Whether it is a sign of the times or not, I think that it is a sign of the times that women are finding other ways of connecting with other women during a season of their lives when otherwise they would be very isolated and alone. So if technology has allowed me the blessing and privilege of connecting with others and vice versa….I think it's a good thing."
Ana…that was so well-stated. 🙂
I, personally, don't like to talk on the phone. I do make plans via email or texting to get together with friends in real life. When we are face to face, usually walking or running together, I find it easy to talk. Quick emails, comments on FB, blogging or texting work better for me than keeping in touch by phone. If I had to rely on my letter writing or card sending, it would put me back in time…when I rarely ever sent a letter or a card. I type fast and can think and write better than holding a phone to my ear. I prefer face to face conversations over phone calls. But there is NO way I can do a "face to face" with the people I regularly keep in touch with via blogging, FBing or texting.
Great post and one I have debated with a few non computer friends…They just happen to be friends that spend probably 30 hours a week playing bridge…and they are visious about it. One even told me only really bored people would spend their time commuicating with strangers…
I hate talking on the phone …and I love communicating with the written word…I am with you…its all about balance.
I was looking forward to reading your thoughts on this my "online friend." (Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog.)
I cherish cherish cherish friends and connection of all kinds. I have moved a lot and have deep friendships with people that don't live near me.
As a missionary kid, I was often separated from my parents and letter writing by the hours was a way to stay in touch.
FOR ME IT IS ALL ABOUT CONNECTION. And I enjoy any means to connect with women. I blog, text, skype, chat on the phone, use snail mail, mentor, facilitate small groups, have women in my home . . . any way I can connect.
I believe the internet it neutral and can be used for good or bad. I am doing my best to use it for God's glory. For example, I love praying with woman on face book.
(Sorry this got long, I think I need to blog about this topic in the future.)
Thanks for getting the discussion going, Sandy.
I found your blog somehow and I'm really enjoying your thoughts (and your quirky sense of humor!) I have heard all the "What's the world coming to?" comments and they leave me mildly disturbed, perhaps a little sheepish to admit I am one of those internet users.
Now, I will hold my head up. I am a mommy/blogger/ facebook-er and I love the connections I have made! (long-lost relatives and high school buddies among others)I really treasure the conversations I am privy to…especially with my older children, who are out of my house, and their many friends.
I have often found Facebook the fastest way to get the most amount of prayer for an urgent request with minimal gossip. How shallow is that??