For the past several years, I’ve been a regular user of Facebook. I never chat on the site (with the one exception of chatting with Josh while he was in Afghanistan), and never play any of the thousands of games. For me, it is a posting of a workout in the morning, then a Scripture passage, and perhaps a comment on life throughout the day. I read much, much more on Facebook than I type. I’ve seen it as a great way to keep in touch with a multitude of high school, college and seminary classmates, as well as relatives, in-laws and church members. Recently however, I’ve had misgivings about the whole thing — it seems to be a waste of valuable time and energy.
Relationships aren’t built on Facebook, they are built face-to-face with an investment of physical presence. Granted, there is always a place for circulating the written word, such as websites, blogs, email, printed books and magazines. Facebook however, is more about virtual interaction through an assortment of pictures, catchy phrases and tidbits of personal information. The point is that if we spend so much time interacting through virtual presence, our ability to interact via physical presence is diminished. I just have a growing feeling that physical relationships, the flesh-and-blood variety, are slowly being drained by this massive online community.
I have a similar feeling about texting — I have it on my cell phone, but use it infrequently. Some people, especially younger generations, use it constantly and appear to suffer from a similar malady in flesh-and-blood interaction.
It is one thing to write a book, to send information via an email, or to post a message on a blog. It is another thing however, to opt to exchange thoughts electronically, to choose virtual interaction over physical, personal interaction. In our Internet savvy day-and-age, that choice is exactly the one we are increasingly making.
I remember as a child during the summer people would sit on their porches as the sun was setting. The point was not just to get some fresh air, but to be open for interaction with others nearby. Neighbors would go from sidewalks to porches visiting and talking. Now the trend is to sit in the comfort and isolation of an air-conditioned house, typing messages back and forth with others in an electronic community. There is no body language, no facial expression, no tone of voice, just impersonal flickers of light on a screen and tappings on a keyboard.
Although communication technology is an amazing thing, I can’t shake the sense that we are losing something valuable. Perhaps it is the ability to be emotionally present where we are physically. With the increasing popularity of electronic interaction, we invest ourselves emotionally where our bodies do not follow. We’re less whole as a result — our lives are diminished, not enhanced.
There is something about human relationships that is meant to be limited to our physical presence. Of course, that same kind of logic could apply to the telephone as well — we communicate with others where we do not go physically. People talking incessantly on cell phones nowadays while driving, shopping or even going to the bathroom is a related topic that goes far beyond the scope of this particular post.
I don’t know where this whole sense of Facebook misgivings will take me — it will be a matter of prayer and further reflection. In the meantime, I believe I’ll take a break from checking Facebook as often as I do. Instead, I’ll read a good book, I’ll spend some time in prayer, or I’ll actually go next door, sit down, and talk with one of my neighbors.