My friend, Cameron, is an early adopter. He’s on to gadgets and widgets before they make their way into mainstream culture. This past year, Cameron got me blogging. Because of him I know what “StumbleUpon” and “del.icio.us tags” mean. Cameron is also responsible for my participation in Twitter. Though Cameron is an early adopter, I am an obsessive implementer. I blog once a week, check my Facebook several times a day, and Twitter as often as I think about it.
But I’m starting to wonder if all this online tagging and tweeting is such a good thing. I believe in the moral neutrality of technology. It is all simply a tool: in the wrong hands it does harm, in the right hands it can do good. And certainly, it has done a lot of good. It has helped us keep connected with the people in our churches, or, in the language of Facebook and Twitter, our “followers,” “fans,” and “friends.”
Here is the question: Are we perfecting the art of artificial relationships and losing the craft of cultivating deep friendships?
Connecting with a person’s online profiles can become depersonalizing in the end. A person is no longer a rich, complicated, beautiful mess of good desires and wicked impulses, with unique stories and quirky personalities. A person is reduced to a few key statistics or the groups they belong to or the colleges they attended. We don’t want to know people; we just want to find things our about them—quickly, easily, and without a real conversation. So, instead of baring our souls we update our status. Technology has made communication efficient; but our obsession with efficiency has depersonalized our relationships.
It doesn’t’ stop there. We watch a video sermon and some worship videos and call it church; we add and accept Facebook friends and think we have community. I’m not against any of these things; we do many of them at my church. But there is a danger lurking that must not be ignored. The way of Jesus with His disciples was highly personal. He never chose efficiency and expediency over friendship and conversation. His disciples weren’t people He checked up on; they were people He walked, ate, laughed and lived with.
So, here are some ways to not allow technology to depersonalize us:
1. Use social networks as a supplement to your relationships not as substitute.
Real life, face-to-face relationships have fights and resolutions, hugs and facial expressions and tone of voice. There is a genuine connection and a history of relationship and a commitment to each other. It’s built on trust and vulnerability. A Facebook friendship and a Twitter-follower relationship can have all those things only when there is an additional non-digital dimension to it.
2. Take a day a week where you shut out communication technology—laptop, cell phone, etc.
Call it a tech-Sabbath if you’d like. You’d be surprised how just one day a week can break your addiction to gadgets. Plus, it will force you to actually focus on the people who are right in front of you. And if there aren’t any, it will help you realize it’s time to cultivate some deeper friendships.
3. Pursue relationships pro-actively instead of reactively.
Technology can make us relationally reactive. We’re buzzed with text messages and emails, alerted of other’s updates, and notified when we’re tagged. We’re constantly reacting and responding that we’re losing the art of pursuing and loving. If someone stops making digital contact with us, we forget about them, move on to our other “friends” who do. Having forgotten what it means to fight for a friendship or push through a conflict, we find ourselves with a revolving circle of friends who never get too close. In the end, we may find ourselves alone. But we can avoid that by choosing to pursue and learning to become faithful friends.
Steady Diet - Maybe our online relationships and social networks and video church are like frosting on the proverbial cake. Cameron is one of my best friends. I was the best man in his wedding. We had a friendship long before Facebook, Twitter, and IM. But now that Cameron lives in another state, all these social networking tools help our connection. But they are not the totality of our connection. Not every relationship needs to be deep; some will be superficial. We have acquaintances and casual friends. But be cautious of relationships that are artificial. Eating frosting with cake is delicious. But a steady diet of frosting alone will make you sick.
We must not lead people to believe that relationships are just about status updates and news feeds and tweets. We must show a better, more personal, more fully human way lest we keep our souls shallow, our lives unchallenged, and our hearts unloved.