In the past few days I’ve seen what seems like a spate of articles and blog posts about the horrors of the internet and social media (somehow this has to happen at lest once a year or so) and how it’s destroying the fabric of modern society and putting us all in danger. And frankly, I’m tired of it all and wish it would just go away. In particular what’s got my back up tonight (in a sort of straw that broke the camel’s back kind of way) was this article at Faith and Family. Yes, I know it’s a lovely article and it’s got a positive message about spiritual friendship; but for me that message’s power was lost by the swipes the article took at the online world:
We live in age when we can strike up a new friendship with the click of a mouse, when our �friends,� many of whom we�ve never even met, can number into the hundreds, or even thousands, thanks to social networking. Yet despite all the connections and links and �likes� about everything from what we cooked for dinner last night to our latest work project, most people are hungry for something more.
We can have 395 Facebook friends and still feel lonely. We can �talk� to people all day in an almost constant stream of e-mail, telephone and online chats and never have a conversation that dips below the surface to touch the soul. We can surround ourselves around the clock with co-workers and neighbors, parishioners and family members and still wonder at times if we�re flying solo.
In a world where so much is mobile or disposable, we crave something deeper, something eternal. Sure, it�s important to have friends who�ll share a night out for cocktails, a ball game or a monthly book club, but it�s more important to develop at least one friendship that goes beyond the boundaries society sets for us to a place where God enters the picture.
It evidently hit the same nerve with someone else for the first comment from Claire says: “Unfortunately, sometimes online is the only option available. Not ideal, but better than nothing.”
I so very much agree with Claire. She put it beautifully and succinctly. But unlike her, I’m long-winded and so will expand on the theme.
While I am not blind to the internet’s abuses and its dangers, I think that what is presented in the paragraphs I quote is a one-sided view and sets up an implied contrast between the shallow world of social media and the deeper world of spiritual friendship. I’d like to take a few minutes to push back against that contrast and present the other side—the positive side of social media. I agree with Mary DeTurris Poust that we crave something eternal, something deeper than much of what is presented in social media outlets; but I take exception to the implication that the “something deeper” that we crave can never be found online.
I live more than a thousand miles away from most of my friends and family. I’m a transplant from Texas to New England and I have found the transition to be a difficult one. Though I’ve lived here for a decade now, I haven’t made many deep friendships here—the exception of course being the deepest soul friendship of my life with my husband. Still, for one reason and another much if not most of my adult human contact happens online. We�ve only lived in our town a short while and I have three children under five and am expecting another baby. I don�t have time or energy right now to go out seeking soul friends in my local community. For better or worse the online world fills that need in my life right now. And the more I think on it and pray about it, the more certain I am that God is saying to me: What I have given you is sufficient for you for now.
Though I don’t have any local friends to go have coffee with, in the past five years I have made several deep soul friends online. Friends who challenge me and support me with prayers and kinds words and for whom I do the same. Friends who have my back. Friends I would love to meet �in real life� because I know that when we do it will feel as if we�d known each other for years. I would love for one of these friends to live next door; but that isn�t what God has sent me and right now I�m trusting him to send me what I need. And to all of those friends, you know who you are, I say thank you again for being there for me.
Moreover, in addition to that handful of soul friendships I have a broader community of casual friends and passing acquaintances that nonetheless support me and confirm me in my faith journey. Blogging moms and blogging singles, people I know only on Facebook or only on Twitter or only in the comment box of my blog. They may be faceless and I may only know them by a nickname or a first name or a handle or an initial; but still they are real people and they make a real difference in my life and I know that for some of them I make a real difference in their lives as well. Every day I thank God for the internet and for blogs and, yes, even for Facebook. I thank him for the wonders of technology that keep me in touch with far-off friends and family and for bringing me a loving, prayerful, virtual community when I cannot have that same kind of community face-to-face.
Certainly it isn�t the best of all possible worlds; but it�s what I have and I�m a bit tired of seeing people imply that I should be trying harder or doing more because it isn�t good enough.
While it is true that �we can have 395 Facebook friends and still feel lonely,� on the other hand we can also have a small circle of Facebook friends that helps dispel the loneliness. While it is true that �we can �talk� to people all day in an almost constant stream of e-mail, telephone and online chats and never have a conversation that dips below the surface to touch the soul� it is also true that some of those online conversations, some of those telephone calls, and some of those emails can become true moments of grace, souls touching souls in a mysterious way that brings true comfort and consolation in some of life�s bleakest hours.
Sure, some days for me the internet is a time waster and a life-sucker, an invitation to sloth and depression and the some of the worse kinds of judgmentalism and backbiting. But at other times it has been a channel of the peace that passes understanding.
Moreover, it seems to me quite possible that if the internet is indeed a wasteland, if Twitter and Facebook are indeed flooded with inanities, then it is possible that God is calling some of us to make it our own mission territory, to push back against the darkness and triviality and to bring a bit of light and hope and deeper meaning. Perhaps in the same way that St Therese became patron of the missions from within the walls of her little Carmel in Liseiux, some of us blogging moms in pajamas writing about poop and sippy cups and bickering toddlers from the lonely bastions of our suburban hermitages might also have our own small mission to perform? Perhaps the real question is: How can I here, now, do my little part to show the face of love not only to my family in the hidden heart of my home but also in the midst of the online maelstrom?
So today I want to thank all of you out there in my little online community, those of you who comment and those of you who only read silently and yet who in that silence whisper a prayer that helps buoy me in my day. Thank you all for being here to chat with me, to admire my children with me, to support me, to laugh and cry with me, to pray with me and to praise God with me. Thank you for reaching out to touch me with your words and your prayers when you were not able to touch me with your hands. Sometimes this can be a lonely life and I don’t know what I’d do without you.
Lastly, I ask God to bless these words that I put up here and on Twitter and on Facebook and all the words I send out into the ether when I send emails and post comments. Give success to the work of our hands, Lord, give success to the work of our hands.
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