“Friends”: Is social media wasted time?

So, full disclosure before I start ruminating on social media (and, for many of us, facebook in particular): as of last week, I am a facebook wife. Not that that’s a thing. in fact, my web-developer husband says he was pleasantly surprised by how many women were working at facebook, even in the tech-ier positions (low numbers of women is a concern, I guess, in the tech world).

Clearly I’m not going to tell you that facebook is a sign of the end times or anything. In fact, lately, I’ve been joking with many of my pastor friends that I would appreciate it if they stopped giving facebook up for Lent, since my family’s finacial future may depend on whether or not people are using it.

My friend Bethany (visit her brilliant blog on inappropriate quotation marks here) just tweeted this:

“Confused by how frequently folks refer to facebook time as “wasted.” A lot of my facebook time is interacting with and supporting friends.”

I’ve been thinking about this. Maybe not coincidentally since a conversation I had with Bethany’s dad a month ago.

And her tweet is a good example of this social media phenomenon and the term “friendship”. By no stretch of the imagination could I say that Bethany is a close friend of mine. Nor her dad. In fact, I don’t think Bethany and I have ever met face to face. And I’m bummed out that just as I’m leaving the Chicago area for California, she’s headed to Chicago, where she’ll be working with a bunch of people who I happen to know in “real” life. (Hey, Bethany! Let me know if those were totally inappropriate quotation marks!)

But, she’s a friend of my friend Katherine who, after being someone I mostly knew online, has become one of my closest in the flesh friends (this friendship, by the way, never would have happened without social media). And those two, actually have a relationship that goes back to some old internet forums. Which is how Katherine met Bethany’s dad online. And why Katherine was excited when he came to speak at my church a year ago. You know how this goes.

Anyway, back to Bethany’s tweet.

I replied to her:

“w/or w/out social media, the question to be asked is: are my dealings w/ friends superficial or deep & redemptive?”

(I do hate that we mangle the language like this on twitter, but there you have it.)

The thing about social media for me is that it has been a lifesaver. I’m a pastor. This is a profession that is often professionally and socially isolating, in part because you are ripped away from the support network you develop while training to be a pastor. I value deeply those people with whom I went through seminary. And I value the other pastors who have come into my life as mentors and colleagues since then.

Of course, you don’t need the internet to keep in touch with these people. My Dad and my Grandpa are both pastors, and they managed to do it. But sometimes, those treasured moments of contact were few and far between.

(My Grandma tells the story of a time when my Grandpa was leading a tour of New Testament sights in the middle east. By some strange sequence of events involving a broken down bus and back roads, he wound up getting off his bus on a dirt road in the middle of no where in Turkey, as one of his seminary classmates got off the other bus, and the two men embraced in the middle of that road. You never know when you’re going to be able to see someone again sometimes!)

Things like blogs and facebook and twitter have allowed me to keep up relationships that might fall away as I’ve moved, as my seminary friends have moved, as time has passed. And often they’ve also enabled me to jump right back into a face to face, in the flesh moment with one of those people.

I’ve also made new friends this way. Friends of friends, people I’ve gone to conferences with, other members of organizations. And some of these people have become my dearest friends.

I’ll admit. I should check these sites less often. They are a terrible curse for the procrastinator who may have a little side of AHDH.

But there are lots of other things that I do too much of, as well. I eat too much chocolate. I listen to NPR too much (no, really, it’s a sick addiction). I am way too in love with my iphone (members of my previous youth group, who are probably not reading this, would giggle at that one, because I used to gently, I hope, poke fun at their constant need to be touching their phones). I bite my fingernails. There are times when I really shouldn’t have another glass of wine. I buy too much yarn. And let’s not get started on my cheese problem.

And there are times when I need to turn off the social media and pay attention to the in the flesh life that I am living in the here and now.

But, that doesn’t mean that social media itself is bad.

It’s how you use it. And how it uses you.

My parents grew up in a denomination that had a number of bans on social vices. Specifically: theater-going; movies; dancing; card playing and gambling (note that smoking and alcohol were OK…not every branch of Christianity had trouble with the same things).

Those bans were lifted when people pointed to the fact that it wasn’t those things in themselves that were bad (although, I’ll admit I sort of feel that way about gambling). The problem was how they could be abused and used inappropriately.

Most of the people of faith I hang around with are not of the sort who would all out ban social media in their faith communities. (Remember that pastor who banned facebook in his church because it made it too easy, he said, for people to commit adultery? And, it turns out that he was involved in a little sexual impropriety himself, perhaps with no help from facebook at all?)

But, I do have friends, like I said, who give it up for lent or talk about getting rid of it altogether.

That might be a good thing to do. I really should “fast” from social media myself sometimes.

But it’s not the thing itself that is the problem. As with so very many aspects of our human condition, it’s what we do with the thing.

One more story about this: my husband’s Grandpa Orville, as a farmer in Northern Wisconsin, helped start the telephone coop in his area. One time, he had to go out and install a phone at the home of an Amish family. The gentleman asked him to put it on the porch. Orville pointed out that it was an odd place for a phone. But the man said he wanted it on the porch so that “I can use it, but it can’t use me.”

The solution is not to ban things, unless we are so deeply addicted that there’s no other way. But to recognize and evaluate how we use it to order our lives in a way that helps us to live in the fulness God intended, and helps us love others into that same fulness.

2 Responses to ““Friends”: Is social media wasted time?”

  1. Katherine Says:

    I love this post. Everything about it. Especially the parts about our friendship, and your cheese problem, and your wisdom. Oh, and I’ve never actually met Bethany in “real” life. :)

  2. Bethany Says:

    quotation marks…. approved! (nice post)