You've Got a Friend
Updated: Jul 19, 2020
Who knew it could be so problematic to have friends? The virtual kind, that is.
With all the recent dismay about Facebook, it’s hard not to come across as sanctimonious in admitting I haven’t used that social media platform in years. I jumped ship after growing queasy about my likes, dislikes, and personal information being traded as a commodity. As my son who works in digital marketing says, “If anything online is free, you are the product.”
I also experienced echo fatigue, weary of being poured into an information silo with others amplifying already-entrenched opinions. While it produces a gratifying dopamine rush to have my beliefs affirmed, I think it’s healthy to be exposed to different ideas. I might learn a new perspective; to claim my view of the world is exclusively valid is absurdly presumptuous.
Social media algorithms are remarkably efficient at connecting us with like-minded people, while shutting us off from nice folks whom we’re told are hopeless chumps. They become the “other,” held in contempt and at an ever-growing distance. Civility, reason, and kindness become casualties as polarization intensifies. A tool promising to bring people together has morphed into a shovel, digging a chasm of bitter social division.
If you’re still on Facebook, I understand. It’s not all bad. Just refrain from taking surveys or befriending strangers. It can be a great way to keep in touch. When I went cold-turkey, many Facebook “friends” were horrified. “It creates community,” they protested. “You’ll be left out.” Truth is, I haven’t missed a thing, except silly cat videos.
Facebook is so pervasive (for now), I still use it professionally as a necessary communication tool for the church I serve. We publish a paper newsletter, but social media is becoming our primary way of sharing information. I need to communicate well and often since my vocation is largely to build and nurture community. Healthy and meaningful relationships are inextricably woven into the fabric of worship, service to our neighbors, study, and fellowship.
Put simply, we work very hard at fostering friendships. The flesh-and-blood, non-virtual, sometimes-complicated-yet-authentic kind of friends.
I’m not suggesting a church is the only place where true friendships are made, only that true friendships are essential. Any time two or more people gather for a common purpose, we breathe the same air, observe body language, and hear vocal inflections. We need real.
Non-virtual friends physically show up to celebrate joys, and to help bear burdens. We laugh, cry, learn, debate, console, and treat each other with respect and dignity. We keep confidences. We don’t always agree, but we listen. We’re heard and taken seriously, and we return the favor. We occasionally mess up, and we forgive. We hug.
Whether or not you join the ranks of Facebook alumni, pursue the non-virtual friendships available to you. We all need real friends to navigate life, and plenty of us are waiting to take the journey with you.