I’ve been thinking a lot about authentic community and the part social media plays in all of this. There’s a viral video going around called Look Up. It’s a spoken word piece about looking up instead of at our phones and the destruction technology has caused in missed life opportunities. While I don’t disagree completely with the themes behind the video, I have to say I’m not a big fan.
Let me start off by saying I’m guilty. I have been so engrossed in my phone that I ignored what my husband was saying to me. I have been looking at my phone when I’ve been at a party or out to dinner with friends.I have been engrossed with looking for the end of the Internet on my computer for all sorts of reasons for hours of my time. I have chosen the virtual over the physical time and time again.
I am also a person who has a support network that crosses states and countries. When I lost my first child to miscarriage, the outpouring of love and support I felt through social media and technology in general was incredible. That support is part of what helped me grieve and move forward quickly and fully. Yes, the people in my physical local community were supportive as well. I don’t want to discount that, but I also want to credit the fact that LOTS of people from various places also supported me through technology when they couldn’t be here for me physically. As I have been struggling through understanding things about becoming a parent, moms from my current physical community and former have provided helpful advice. I have met two people off of Twitter who were originally complete strangers, but now I call friends. When I was in my first two years of teaching and struggling with various issues, the network of teachers I had met across the Internet helped me in so many ways. Much of what I was doing well in the classroom I learned from my Twitter teacher friends. I have multiple friendships that have been maintained for years because of Twitter, Facebook, email, gchat, and blogging–not because we physically lived in the same place and were able to see each other all the time. One of my oldest and closest friendships is with a woman who lived in the same city as me for about 18 months. We’ve been friends for 12 years. That would not be true without technology.
The argument could be made that if the Internet and technology as we know it did not exist, it is very likely that I would have put more time and energy into local relationships. There are potentially people in my current physical location whom I have little or no relationship with because I have chosen to put energy into maintaining relationships afar in addition to instead of locally alone. I don’t necessarily think it is wrong to maintain long-distance friendships, but I suppose I can also get this point. However, it does not convince me of the evils of social media and the Internet. It simply convicts me to be intentional in my local as well as virtual relationships.
At this point, I intentionally try to leave my phone out of sight when I am with people. I also try to intentionally use technology to connect with new people and maintain relationships with old. Just this week I emailed and texted a new friend. We got together. We put our phones away for our entire visit and enjoyed one another’s company. When I got home, I texted this new friend to tell her how much I enjoyed our time together. Today, I commented on a Facebook post she made. Our relationship is growing both virtually and locally. I have a handful of friends who I suspect will be loved ones into old age, but I also suspect we will never all live in the same city or even state. I see nothing wrong with maintaining these relationships via the use of technology.
Yes, I am sometimes guilty of sacrificing the present and physical for the removed and virtual.
Yes, I sometimes leverage the power of the Internet and technology to maintain and grow a network of relationships of varying depth and for varying purposes.
The bottom line to me is being intentional in all my relationships through whatever medium best forges that friendship. All of my relationships, whether local or virtual should be relationships in which the Gospel is my first priority, where I strive to bring glory to the Father in one way or another. If maintaining a long-distance friendships keeps me from helping to serve the physical needs of someone in my own neighborhood, I’m losing sight of the point. Similarly, if I completely fall out of someone’s life when they need me simply because our lives no longer physically intersect, I am also falling short.
Technology and advancement is not evil in and of itself. It becomes evil when we allow it to become an idol and when it causes us to lose sight of true purpose.