I just checked. I have 169 Facebook friends. Some people might call me popular–you know–well connected. However, as I take a look at all of my “friends”, its not quite so impressive. Many of them are former students who I rarely see. Some are friends from high school who I never see. Some are family members who I see way too often (just kidding :), and some are people I’m not even sure how they got in there. Only a very small percentage of my Facebook friends are my real friends who I care alot about. So does that make the time I spend reading through my mini-feed a waste of time? Is Facebook in some way eroding my experience of friendship? Has Facebook truly become the great harbinger of over-mediated and under-committed friendships?
As much as many college faculty colleagues of mine would like to hold out Facebook as a symbol of all that is wrong with today’s culture, I would have to disagree. At the same time, I do have concerns with how I see Facebook slowly eroding my willingness to shut off my lap top, pick up the phone, and be a good friend. Facebook, as with any other technology, is only as good or as bad as the choices I make with it. Those choices, unfortunately, are often difficult to isolate as I automatically pop open my Facebook page and thoughtlessly scroll through the daily events of my friends’ lives. Without being intentional about my Facebook use, I may slowly lose the deeper sense of connection I get when I am fully engaged in the life of a friend. Especially when I get busy, I find myself settling. The thing is, God wants more for us–he expects more from us. Friendships–true frienships–take time. They are messy and require us to sacrifice the time and energy we work so hard to keep for ourselves. They require us to break out of our cozy telecocoons, padded with wall posts and mini-feeds. The primary commandment is to love the lord our God with our entire heart, mind and soul. The second commandment is to love others as ourself. That requires commitment to quit settling for the Facebook version of friendship.
So what might that look like? I’m not saying we should unplug our Facebook connection. What I am saying is that we should truly plug in to our Facebook connection. That means really paying attention to the status posts left by our friends. I have found to do this well, I need to focus in on just a handful of friends. I can’t commit to becoming truly involved in the lives of all 169 of my friends. I can, however, respond to a few true blue friends. My husband is especially good at this. As soon as he reads something interesting on a post, he picks up the phone and calls the person. He finds out so much more about what is going on and he communicates to his friend that he or she is someone of value. When I see on Facebook that someone is having a hard day with the kids, I pray for them or offer to babysit. When I see a student is studying hard, I’ll send a private note of encouragement. With a little bit of intentionality and commitment,Facebook doesn’t have to turn us into lazy friends. Facebook can be the manner in which we search for new ways to truly connect.