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Facebook, online chatting and text messaging have made communication so entertaining that we sometimes surrender relationships to be mediated by technology.

There isn’t much in this world that technology hasn’t touched to some degree. It has made our work easier, our lives longer and our friendships…well it’s thoroughly complicated them, at least. It used to be that people were only in long-distance relationships if they lived long distances from one another. But applications like Facebook, online chatting and text messaging have made communication through a medium so entertaining and accessible that we often choose to surrender our relationships to be mediated by them.

None of these advances in communications are bad in themselves. If you are actually in a long-distance relationship they probably seem to you a blessing. Facebook has also been credited with the revival of many forgotten friendships. And how many conferences, or real-time, face-to-face get-togethers would have been missed if it weren’t for that essential Facebook reminder? It is also true that there are some friendships that are feeble to begin with, and that it has proven to be no crime that they’ve been left in the realm of online encounters.

With most advances of technology some advantages are gained as well as some potential for vice. It seems naïve to deny that the same is true of our beloved online communications. For example, haven’t we all found ourselves in the position of having a serious conversation with a friend online, maybe even pertaining to their spiritual life, and then another friend signs in to let you know that you’re never going to guess how much she paid for the EXACT same adorable heels you paid full price for LOL! Before you’ve finished working out the details of where and when, and guessing how much she actually DID pay, your other friend in need has already signed out. The situations vary, of course, but spreading your attentions too thin is a common vice in online communications.

Or how about this situation: You’re online finishing a project for school and also signed in to Facebook or MSN, probably both. Two hours later, you realize that it has taken much longer than it should have to finish your project and the reason is that you’ve been carrying on four or five conversations that haven’t succeeded in communicating much at all. As you review the history of your discussions you realize that maybe a few of those questions required a little more thought than one of your standard, Mhm; Yep; I think so; and Ttyl’s. Online conversations make it very easy to “communicate” without paying any attention resulting in insincerity, not to mention a shallow friendship. Although it is very possible to transmit coherent thoughts through a screen, the trouble is that more often than not it doesn’t happen. We’re too distracted by other obligations.

Maybe you feel that you fall under a different category. It could be that you are a bit of an anti-socialite and that your forays into online communication do nothing to degenerate your relationships, mainly because you don’t have many. In fact, you might think you’re lucky to have the Internet, or you’d have fewer friends than you do now. There are times that Facebook can serve as a crutch. Those who prefer to stay at home can enjoy the feeble semblance of a relationship that browsing someone’s wall and posting an occasional comment may give. In doing so, we deprive ourselves of the full benefits of friendship.

Actually, anybody who uses Facebook, MSN, text messaging or any other similar applications are probably well aware of its perils and pitfalls. There’s certainly no shortage of criticism. But, for Christians these dangers should be seen as more than minor drawbacks to something that can often be used positively. Perhaps there isn’t any harm done to keep some relationships online, after all, we can’t be equally close with all people. What about those people we consider our close friends? Are we putting forth every effort to build one another up in the interest that “their hearts maybe be encouraged, being knit together in love” or are too many opportunities to encourage going to waste because either we underestimated a friend’s need or they underestimated our interest?

Although there was no Internet in Paul’s day he did a fair share of his communication through the written word. However, you only have to read one of the many letters he wrote to struggling or rebelling communities to realize that none of the shallow conversation that so often characterizes our emails, texts and Facebook walls found its way into Paul’s letters. In spite of the fact that Paul was so involved in his letters he was still concerned that the recipients would be fully aware of his interest in their progress. Like Paul, we need to realize that even if we have maintained good habits of communicating intelligently and carefully through any medium there is still no substitute for the sight of a friend’s “face in the flesh”, something we too often underestimate.

Originally published in Christian Renewal, April 2009.




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