I am loathe to even write this post. Maybe I won’t publish it. After all, we hear the Facebook debate quite a bit: is it a waste of time? Is Facebook causing us to be less happy, to have fewer good friendships, or to find ourselves miserable all the time? I know you’ve heard this a million times. I know you’re probably tired of the discussion. To be honest, so am I. Which leaves me wondering why I’m writing this. Maybe because I find myself on Facebook for hours every single day. Maybe because I’m back from college, and while I want to keep in touch with school friends, I realize the limitations of conversing online. Maybe because many of my friends disappear from Facebook for a few weeks, only to resurface; some even leave Facebook behind entirely, planning to never return. Perhaps my lunch conversation partially sparks these thoughts. I was sitting with a children’s minister and a few others at McDonald’s today. Someone remarked that they thought Facebook would become obsolete soon and be replaced with Twitter or some other social networking site. We began discussing whether or not that were true, which led to discussions of other websites and their popularity with my sister’s friends (in high school), my peers, and the adults at the table. Pinterest, Instagram, and Spotify all came up.
Now I’m thinking about all those sites, all the connectedness of our society. And we understandably wonder why we don’t have solid friendships. After all, people used to stay connected simply by writing letters back and forth. No pictures except for the hand-drawn ones. Days (if not weeks) for the letter to go from one place to another. And were friendships shattered? Were people horribly lonely? I don’t think so. In fact, I remember having a pen pal as a child. My friend lived across the state and had the same birthday as me. We wrote and exchanged birthday and Christmas presents. Eventually we fell out of touch (my fault), but not long ago we connected over Facebook! We even found we had a mutual friend who now goes to college with me. But that’s not my point. Back to letters. There are two kids in Mexico whom I love a lot. They’re too young for Facebook, so we write letters to each other. Not very frequently, but every so often. In fact, I should go write them both letters tonight. =)
Like I was saying, people have and continue to maintain relationships without face-to-face conversation. Sure, it’s harder. It’s not as comfortable or fun as being able to give a hug or laugh at the same joke at the same time. But with effort, it works. We can have friends whom we rarely see face-to-face. So what’s the problem with Facebook?
I don’t think there is a problem with Facebook in and of itself. I think the problem is with us.
We substitute reading someone’s status updates for asking how their day was. We trade liking a picture for spending time with them. We read their public notes instead of engaging in lively debate with them. This is a choice we make. If we really wanted to, we could send someone a card to say we’re thinking of them. Or we could schedule a lunch date to catch up on life. Maybe we could even pick up the phone and give them a call. Sometimes this stuff isn’t practical. Sometimes the Internet is the only feasible way to communicate, or at least the most reasonable. That doesn’t mean Facebook can’t be personal. We can send someone a message or write on their wall. We can take the time to ask how things are going with them. We can choose to communicate through more than status updates and old photographs. And we can use Facebook. Status updates are great, and I love seeing pictures of my friends’ adventures. But if that’s all we use to keep up with friends, we’re missing something. Sure, it’s easier. But it’s not better. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to ask how someone’s day has been or to try to strengthen relationships through Facebook conversation. If we would just take 10 minutes of our daily Facebook diet and actually engage in conversation with our far-away friends, how different would Facebook be? Would we really feel as lonely? I don’t think so.
Of course, I am not advocating using Facebook–even private conversations on Facebook–as a substitute for face-to-face interactions. Even if we write letters to pen pals, we still need friends in our everyday lives. We need to schedule lunch dates and trips to the zoo. We need to have dinner with friends or just hang out at someone’s house. We need to spend time with people from our churches, from our schools, from our neighborhoods. We need to catch up with the adults we admire, the children who look up to us, and the peers we haven’t seen in a while. Which reminds me, I really should be going to the Wednesday night college event my church has. After all, I have to practice what I preach, right? So maybe next Wednesday, I’ll get off Facebook and head over to The Gathering. What could it hurt? I’ll probably even make a few new friends. =)
Dios te bendiga.