Are you a fan of social networking sites?
Internet watering holes like My Space and Face Book are all the rage these days.
People love connecting with others, and with the capacity not only to send messages, links, and instant down loads the opportunity to enhance our closest relationships and make new ones seems unlimited.
But more and more people are discovering there is also great potential for trouble in cyber-paradise.
The progression usually works like this:
The Discovery Phase:
The wide eyed wonder that accompanies getting responses from people we care about, just for initializing a page. The thought of saving tons of time on phone calls and visits while keeping current on our relationships makes us believe this social networking site is the neatest thing since sliced bread.
The Disillusionment Phase:
Wide eyed wonder gives way to a growing sense of obligation to an ever increasing amount of “friends” who in reality are friends of friends. (“Who are these people? Do I really know anyone in Des Monies?”)
Obligation gives way to a sense of amazement at the minutia people feel compelled to share. (“Do I really need to know that a friend of a friend gets hives when they eat peanuts?”)
Amazement gives way to a sense of resentment at those who bury us with a steady stream of glorious personal and family accomplishments usually reserved for the dreaded “End o-Year Christmas Update Letter”. (“Wow! Your Yorkie won most likely to star in a Purina ad at obedience school? You must be so proud.”)
Resentment then gives way to fear when the same kind of people who motivated you to skip your last high school reunion are now aware of where you are and are begging to be your “friend”. (“If I wanted to continue this relationship, I might have gotten in touch once or twice after eighth grade!”)
And is there anything more guilt producing than turning down a request to be a “friend”?
It’s like being the one responsible for someone not going to the dance, or deciding who was getting picked last when choosing up teams at recess.
“All I wanted was a little friendship, but this heartless monster blocked me, Dr. Phil!!”
The Distancing Phase:
The slow retreat begins.
We have learned this social networking site is the rough equivalent of a relational Waring Blender.
Things are getting a little messy, so we start to back away from the key board.
Instead of checking in hourly, we cut back to a couple of times a week.
Instead of being excited at the new posts, we find ourselves cringing.
Instead of using the social networking site, we go back to the phone or even getting together with the people we really care about.
Don’t get me wrong. Social networking sites can be a great way to let people know when someone needs prayer and support.
It can be a great way to even share God’s Word as the opportunity arises.
But have you noticed that every single relationship obstacle that confronts us in real life seems only to be magnified when we accelerate it to 36 megabites per second?
Compounding that, healthy relationships are challenging enough without saying, “Uh! Talk to the keyboard!”
Consider this eye opening article from Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal:
How Facebook Ruins Friendships
Notice to my friends: I love you all dearly.
But I don’t give a hoot that you are “having a busy Monday,” your child “took 30 minutes to brush his teeth,” your dog “just ate an ant trap” or you want to “save the piglets.” And I really, really don’t care which Addams Family member you most resemble. (I could have told you the answer before you took the quiz on Facebook.)
Here’s where you and I went wrong: We took our friendship online. First we began communicating more by email than by phone. Then we switched to “instant messaging” or “texting.” We “friended” each other on Facebook, and began communicating by “tweeting” our thoughts—in 140 characters or less—via Twitter.
One of the big problems is how we converse. Typing still leaves something to be desired as a communication tool; it lacks the nuances that can be expressed by body language and voice inflection. “Online, people can’t see the yawn,” says Patricia Wallace, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth and author of “The Psychology of the Internet.”
The lesson to be learned here?
When it comes to relationships there is no substitute for actually being there.
Relationship experts tell us that the vast majority of communication is non verbal. And it is extremely hard to get the whole message someone is sending without being in the same place.
Believe it or not the same principle applies in our spiritual lives as well.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Why is it so important for our spiritual growth to have face to face interaction with others?
Because on-line, no one can really hear the emotion behind what we are saying.
And no one can really see into our eyes as we are sharing.
And no one can actually touch the real person God is in the business of transforming into the likeness of His Son.
No matter how convenient, no matter how efficient, the Internet will never take the place of sharing God’s love up close and personally.
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