I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, I have reconnected with many old friends since I joined Facebook several years ago, and I love seeing what people I haven’t talked to in decades are doing these days. It’s great to get to catch up with old friends, to share memories, and to see photos of their families. I no longer have to worry about forgetting most people’s birthdays, because Facebook is always there to remind me. I have friends who brag about not being on Facebook, and while I understand why they choose not to participate, I sometimes wonder if they really know what they are missing.
On the other hand, I am still an introvert who needs a certain level of privacy to feel comfortable, and I’m not exactly a master of new technology. I have a Facebook page, but I don’t have a Twitter account, and I’m not even sure what Instagram is. In the huge pool of social media, I am definitely staying in the shallow water.
But the real problem I have with social media is with its limitations, and I worry about whether we always remember that a Facebook friend is not the same thing as a real friend, and that a “tweet” will never be a substitute for a real conversation. On social media, we post about what we are doing, where we are, who we are with, and (oddly enough) even what we are eating. We share photos of our family and friends, our vacations, or a project that we’ve completed, and that’s all just fine. But the one thing that I have never seen posted (and I would bet that it’s rarely, if ever, tweeted) is the simple question, “How are you doing?”
And that, to my mind, is the difference between friendship and communication in social media, and friendship and communication in real life. Social media is all about showcasing ourselves, and usually in the best possible light. Real-life friendships require true connections, with the chance to tell each other the hard stuff…our self-doubts, our struggles, our not-so-broadcastable moments. Real communication involves listening as well as talking, with an honest and open exchange of ideas, and the chance to learn from each other. Most of the back and forth exchanges I see on Facebook involve hateful arguments about politics and religion, and I never see any evidence that the people writing those comments are actually listening to each other, much less caring about each other.
I think that social media is, by its very nature, usually a bit superficial, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with the casual connections we form there, the chance to catch up with faraway friends, and the chance to quickly and easily keep track of each other. And sometimes social media is used to tell bad news and to request the prayers and support that help so much during these dark times. But it will never be a substitute for one-on-one communication, or the real friendships and the deeper, more personal relationships that we all need, and I think it’s important that we remember that.
In the real world, the quality of the friendship matters so much more than the numbers of friends we have, and real communication is never like a Facebook post that is judged by how many “likes” it gets. Social media definitely has its place, but in my opinion, it also needs to be kept in its place. And that place should never be center stage.