Online friendships

The virtual world is creating a new dimension for us to think about. How real is the online world? How much should we engage with it and connect with it? Are their real people at the other side of the screen or just a misty glaze of a real person, always out of reach?

Tim Chester wrote a really good blog post about facebook, in fact he is writing a series of them which are really thought-provoking. I do always want to be careful how we engage with our culture and with facebook/twitter so embedded in our British culture, we need to be careful to not simply dismiss it out of hand. I think facebook can be used in a good way, we can redeem it for good but the lines are always blurry.

The real question is how real are the friendships we make online? Especially where we rarely make face to face contact, but most of the interaction is done through the computer screen? Are they real?

The danger perhaps is that its very easy to be more vulnerable online then it is face to face, because really no one can see your face if all you are doing is tapping away on a keyboard creating sentences. It’s easy to pour your heart out more and soon the person on the other side knows more about you then your friends in real life. But the difference is that they don’t really know you, because they don’t see your actions, your tone, the way you act in situations etc. I was in this situation not so long ago where through facebook chat I made a friend with a lady my age and doing a very similar job to me – we became close friends through facebook chat and we did meet up but mostly at conferences and the occasional visit. We became close friends very quickly because it was a lot easier to chat on facebook then it was to chat with someone face to face – she knew what I was thinking about at that moment in time and on some superficial level she knew me and I knew her. But in reality I don’t think it was a real friendship and I look back now and I think there were some real unhealthy attachments there which aren’t good and aren’t really based on reality. It got to a point where we realised that this wasn’t a friendship.

Why? Because it isn’t the same as going to the pub with someone and laughing together, crying together and sharing stories together. It isn’t the same as I meet up with a friend nearly every week for coffee and I watch how she interacts with her daughter and her husband and where they invite us for dinner and we share food together and encourage each other with the Gospel. It’s not the same as a couple of weeks ago I went to the house of a lovely lady and we chatted deep theology and spiritual things while drinking coffee and eating chocolate which was rounded off with some great time of praying for each other. You can’t do that on facebook.

Facebook and online communities may speed up “deep” friendships, but it misses out the important process for how we make friendships, how we connect and how we develop those friendships. Which can only properly be done face to face, with real life meetings.

Tim Chester’s says:

Facebook encourages you to live elsewhere. The gospel encourages you to live life here and now.

  •      You can tend your Farmville farm or you can get an allotment.
  •      You can catch up with friends on Facebook or you can go out on a cold, dark night to see real friends.
  •      You can catch up with “Friends” by watching the latest episode on the television or you can serve your neighbours.
  •      You can build a new city on Sims or you can be the city of God set on a hill with your Christian community.

Facebook is good for the on the surface stuff like arranging of meetings. But humans live to connect with the reality, the real life, the flesh! And community won’t ever really thrive through a computer screen, but through face to face.

Now the question that is on the back of my mind is – what about those that can’t get out the house? Where actually Twitter and facebook is a lifeline to connect with people? I would be interested to hear any comments on that. My hope and prayer is that there is a community around you that visits you, that connects with you. Does that happen?