You’re social media savvy, right? So you probably know that “IRL” stands for “In Real Life,” as if there were any other kind. It’s strange though how our screens both free us and ensnare us into believing that we can have another self, a digital one, one that we can manage and contrive. The pretense alone is enough to make some of us flee. I’m ready to do so again. So I’ve tried this once before, and obviously it didn’t stick. However, everything I said in that post is absolutely 100% true still, if not more so. Moreover, I was very challenged by this post from Rod White, in which he lays out a host of other (better) reasons for ditching false “community” online in favor of the real thing. As usual, I think Rod’s right, and I for one would do well to follow his lead in this. Of course though, there’s more to it even than all that. I guess I allude to this possibility in my original “quitting Facebook” post linked above, but I’ve been reminded especially over the past week of the potential that FB and of course all online interaction hold for destroying the very thing they purport to be powerful tools to help us build- community. Whenever we surrender face to face interaction (or as close to it as we can get) for interaction mediated by a screen, we invite such interaction to become not just contrived but controlled. We subject ourselves and our relationships to the influence (and in many cases, outright control) of a variety of third parties, be they Mark Zuckerberg or the NSA.
More importantly, relationships brought to you courtesy of your screen invite much potential for missing the mark in your effort to communicate with and love your neighbor. Such “relationships” invite misunderstanding and miscommunication in ways that simply were unthinkable before the advent of such screens. Did the childhood schoolmate I otherwise would have no contact with mean to be so vile in his response to my latest blog post? Should I worry that the new friend I just met is suddenly interacting online with all of my “friends” and seems to comment on their posts more than mine? Should I be hurt when someone close to me receives online “love,” praise, and attention from mutual “friends” to a degree that is way out of proportion to what I receive in a situation in which we might otherwise be due similar attention? Less selfishly, what does it mean for my worldview when I ever increase the number of voices that I agree with, that tell me what I want to hear with every “like” and “share?” Am I missing the confounding opinion that challenges me to grow? What am I constantly teaching my children when they have to compete for my attention with a screen? How can I set boundaries around their screentime when I clearly am beholden to no such strictures for myself?
Most importantly, what does Jesus ask of me? How can I love my neighbor when I scarcely have time for him, when even in the rare instance when our paths might cross and we might interact, we do not because each of us are staring down at something shiny as we walk, as we eat, as we live far too many moments of our lives?
Of course, like most things, this technology is just a thing after all. I would not argue that all things are neutral, that they can be used for good or evil depending on the intent of the user. I probably used to think this, but no longer. Some things have (evil) purposes so clear that they should not be used at all. Weapons come to mind in this regard. Yes, they can be redeemed, but Scripture doesn’t promise we’ll find better uses for swords as swords; it promises we’ll beat them into ploughshares. Anyway, sure, social media can be used for good, and certainly has. I’m not saying everyone should do what I’m doing (though some probably should). I’m simply saying that on balance, I don’t think my use of FB is ultimately good for me. Much of the good that I get from it I can get in other ways. I’m not giving up Twitter, for example, and I’ll still blog. I hope that the positive, genuine relationship building that might have occurred for me via FB can still happen. I hope my true “friends” will seek me out in other ways, via this blog and Twitter as I just mentioned if you’re far away, or better still, via a phone call or the occasional visit. If you’re close by, I hope shutting down this method of interaction via FB will push us both in the direction of making real time for one another, of grabbing coffee or stopping by for a real conversation. If not, at least it may open up some space in my life for me to pause, to breathe, to be present to those around me, to just be. Here’s hoping, anyway. In the meantime, if you want to keep up with me via cyberspace, point your browser to this blog from time to time, or hit me up via twitter (@robfredbuck). If you need my email address, let me know.