Is social media destroying our ability to connect in meaningful ways?
If you believe this video's ominous message, which has been appearing in my Facebook newsfeed repeatedly, the answer is, "yes."
Ever heard of "Blanket Statements?" This video leaves me feeling like I want to throw a blanket over my head. Depressing.
Facebook is merely a tool, like a shovel. Perhaps you want to turn up a little ground to plant a Petunia. That's one use. Perhaps you want to turn up a bunch more to plant perennials. That's another use. Perhaps you want to dig a foundation. That's another. You can use a tool at different levels for different reasons. Most people are intelligent enough to know that turning up enough earth to plant a Petunia is not enough to build a structure. And so it is with Facebook. You can work the surface or build strong foundations and structures. And just as a person could become distracted by gardening to the exclusion of others' feelings and existence, so it is with Facebook. Or anything in life. So this video is not false, per se, but it does smack of hysteria.
Let's skip over things we learn on Facebook regarding hobbies, travel, health, etc. Let's go right to the challenge of meaningful connection (although I would argue that sometimes, those "incidentals" just mentioned are part of learning who someone really is). Here are five examples of why I cringe at this video and believe that Facebook can serve as the catalyst for rich experiences in life:
1. Meeting in "real life." Let's get this "real life" thing out of the way, ASAP. I have friends with whom I meet regularly for dinner with whom I'd fallen out of contact until reuniting on Facebook. We are extremely close and meet approximately once a month or every other month. However, some form of chat happens nearly daily. There is NO QUESTION that these friendships are real, and mostly, they happen on Facebook. But here's the thing: Suppose we never met in person. Does that lessen the significance of the relationship? My friends and I happen to share very deeply in private on Facebook and share more casually in person because of the environment (restaurant, movie, competing noise, etc.) So who can judge whether my Facebook friendships are real and meaningful except me and my friends? So I use the term "real life" because that's what others have used. To me, it's all the same. It's all real life.
2. Connecting with relatives. Regularly, often daily, I chat with those whom I've never met or met once or who live across the country. I know what is happening in the lives of my "first friends," my cousins, and my cousins' children! They feel like family instead of merely names. In addition, I feel connected to the families into which my kids have married, which I think is amazing.
3.Celebrating and grieving with others. Instead of finding out six weeks after the fact, I often know when a friend is about to lose someone or has just lost someone. I know when a child is being born or leaving home for the first time. I may learn of a couple's plan to adopt. I can immediately decide which action to take to show support and love, be that a kind word on Facebook, a card, a visit during calling hours or a gift for a new baby or wedding. When my father died, the outpouring of love and beautiful tributes helped me move through the stages of grief and were available to me at 3:00 am when I would not have chosen to phone a friend.
4. Encouraging and inspiring each other toward goals and dreams. Are you dreading your daily run? Me too! Did you just finish a really difficult run? Me too! Did you just enroll in graduate school? Buy your first house? Start a new job? I am so happy for you! Begin a healthier lifestyle? How can I support you in that goal? --Is that not what real friends do for each other?
5. Having my beliefs challenged and eyes opened, spiritually, politically, socially, and learning how to discuss beliefs without losing friends and maybe coming away with a deeper appreciation for that person. I can't count the number of times I've become more compassionate because someone I know on Facebook is struggling with a particular challenge.
There will always be people who live inside their TVs, phones, video games, jobs, bank accounts, movies, latest health trends, pets' lives, children's lives, religion, social causes. There will always be people missing the mark with others, even the most socially conscious and plugged in to others. We could make an ominous video about any subject. We could become monks, but then we'd just be distracted by our robes and each other. Pretty soon, we'd be saying, "Does your robe do this weird thing at your ankle, too?"
For all of its faults and snares (after all--to keep the imagery going--you can assault someone over the head with a shovel) Facebook has helped me grow as a family member, friend and citizen of this world.
Let's not forget that great quote by CS Lewis: "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, "What! You too? I thought I was the only one."
It's just that sometimes, that quote takes this shape: [Status Update] "My dog likes to eat avocados!" [Comment] "Mine does, too!" BOOM-a small moment of community. I'll take it.
I personally love it all, the deep and the shallow ends of the Facebook pool. Be informed, yes. Swim where you like, and let others enjoy the water without worrying them about pruned fingers and toes. To that I will add, "LOL."