A fear of relational loss because of the growth of social media should be tempered by a consideration of the relational benefits that it helps us gain.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of things that affect our notions and behaviors in relation to friendship. After all, most of us desire to have friends, and understand that we must be a kind, loving, etc., to keep the friends we have. But what really drives the ways in which we approach friendship? What should?
I don’t know if I have answers, but I know I have thoughts and more questions...
I spoke in a chapel recently with some colleagues at Biola University about the nature of friends in the modern world, a world in which friendships across virtual mediums are an aspect of many of our lives. One of our key topics of conversation was the way in which new technologies have changed our understanding of friendship as a concept. We now “friend” people on Facebook and Instagram, and these “friends” - some of whom we have never met in real life - “like” our posts, etc.
Friendship seems to have become about a thin type of affirmation, removed from any real intimacy between individuals. This sentence demonstrates a biased belief that true friendship involves some level of intimacy, some kind of deep knowing that I have yet to see in these virtual forums.
That said, I’m a big fan of social media - I love to tweet and gram and post because it provides a way for me to share my thoughts and life with others. Some of those others I know very well, but most of those others I know hardly at all.
I curate my digital presence to reflect who I am generally, what I think generally, and what I believe generally. But it is not a forum that I use for deep knowing. There’s a distance inherent in these spaces that doesn’t seem conducive to cultivating intimacy.
A student asked me this summer if I thought social media and technology was destructive of intimacy. Does Facebook inhibit our ability to be intimate? Are we unlearning the capacity to be close with another human being, to be transparent and vulnerable with another soul by embracing the virtual forums that tout connectivity despite cultivating distance?
We speak colloquially as though the virtual and the real are opposites - the real world is tangible, visible and impactful. The virtual world is somehow imaginary and somehow thin in comparison. Yet, the virtual connections we make have the power to impact us just as powerfully as the ones we participate in from day to day.
I believe that intimacy is both a physical and metaphysical interaction between two beings (human/human, God/human, etc.) and that it is not dependent on the physical to be true intimacy. It is a "fullness" activity that allows us to "be" in our humanity.
The bifurcation we unknowingly embrace (virtual vs. real, verbal vs. physical) has me worried; we can overemphasize the physical aspects of humanity and human contact and minimize the value of spiritual, intellectual, and psychological communion.
Yet just as technology can enhance "fullness" it can also decrease it. I don't ascribe to some people’s "doom and gloom" about the virtual world, but I do think attentiveness and caution are needed.
It strikes me that at the root of negative comments about social media is a fear of what is being lost. I believe that fear that should be replaced by meaningful engagement and critical consideration of the question of what really is lost in social media.
As should the question of what is being gained.