Friendship, Spirituality, and Technology

By: Diane Chandler
Friday, January 7th, 2011

French philosopher Rene Descartes’s famous statement, “I think, therefore I am” is being challenged in our digital age.  A more contemporary mantra might be, “I Facebook, therefore I am.”

It is estimated that 41.6% of the U.S. population has a Facebook Account, with 500 million active users worldwide.  Other social networking platforms, including Twitter and My Space, compete for networking share.  We live in a world that wants to connect.  Hands down…social networking is here to stay!

However in the midst of adding friends, posting photos, and writing on others’ walls, how is the idea of friendship, even spiritual friendship, changing?  Can we be too connected (i.e., checking Facebook from computers and cell phones continuously throughout the day)?  And is this social connection a diversion from forming substantive relationships?  Is the social networking phenomenon indicative of a shift from authentic relationships to universal friendship?  As William Deresiewicz asks in his thought-provoking December 2009 article entitled “Faux Friendship,” are we friends now with everyone?

When thinking of biblical exemplars of friendship, Jonathan and David and Naomi and Ruth immediately come to mind.  What characterized their relationships was the development of face-to-face communication emerging from a mutual caring and commitment.  In a word, they had proximal time together.

Fundamentally, God created us as relational beings and our identity emerges through formative human connectivity.  In your view, how do social networking venues like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace impact our personal identity?  Is there a danger that these venues will become a gloss or substitute for authentic spiritual friendship?

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Diane Chandler
This entry was posted by on Friday, January 7th, 2011 at 5:00 am and is filed under Faith & Culture, Holistic Formation, Spiritual Formation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Friendship, Spirituality, and Technology”

  1. Dave Belles says:

    One of more significant drawbacks I see to increased use of social media over face-to-face communication is the loss of sensitivity and civility. Learning to be sensitive to others takes place as we observe the effects of our comments on the countenance of others. I come to realize by the expresion I see on the other persons face that a comment that I believed was only in jest was actually hurtful. Without that visual feedback, we are ignorant to the damage we may be doing. Without the visual feedback, we cannot see how hurt, angry, or happy our comments have made the other person.

    In a social media world, all feedback is equal: It’s all words on a page! The lack of emotionally attenuated (face-to-face) feedback undermines the need to be sensitive to the effects of our speech. All our comments are made in personal isolation and are sent out into the sterile vacuum of cyberspace. If we do find out that what we have said envoked an emotional response, the impact of that response is dulled by the sterility of the medium (electronic text on a screen)! The impersonal distance created by the use of this form of communication as a substitute for personal communication, I believe feeds a tendency toward self-centeredness, which is manifested in a lack of civility.

    I realize that social media can be a wonderful tool; but when it isoloates us from one another physically, we lose more than we gain. That’s my opinion.

    Dave

  2. Fabio Correa says:

    I am not a fan of blogs, but the topic suggested for discussion provoked me to a point in which I decided to break the mental barrier built to prevent me from using this type of communication. Please do not get me wrong when I say that I am not enthusiastic about talking through electronic messages. Actually, I spend a good deal of my time in front of a computer talking to people. As a litigation lawyer, most of my contacts are professional and are not mainly intended to start new friendships. However, I came to realize that there are fewer ways to reach my friends without using the internet. For that reason, I was encouraged to share my view on this issue and contribute to the discussion.

    I could not agree more with the relevance of the face-to-face communication and how Facebook managed to take that literally and change it into a whole new experience. The information available on my friends’ day-to-day activities welcomes a daily checking on their news. By doing that, I have a strange feeling of closeness that is not real unless I also reply their messages. Mostly I became aware of facts regarding people that in real life are distance friends. Without human connectivity, this contact over the web faces new challenges. The most difficult one seems the short and telegraphical messages.

    It is not everybody that can show caring and commitment to friends in a short sentence. In fact, as God’s Word, the texts are only the beginning of our relationship. In my point of view, the social networks are also the starting point of a new friendship or the mean of maintaining a long lasting friendship. Nevertheless, a spiritual friendship can only be established if such relationship is completed by proximal time together. Those who find the time of doing that will likely say that it is better to have a few face-to-face friends than to nurture a universal friendship. Hopefully all my friends that read this comment will try to reach me by whatever mean, and not only post “likes it” on my page.

    Blessings to all!

    Fabio.

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Fabio, thank you for not only reading this particular blog but also responding to it. I appreciate your thoughts on the usefulness of spiritual friendship via the internet. I believe what you are expressing is that online social networking provides ways to keep in touch and provide an easy source of connection. At the same time, your point is well taken that proximal distance (i.e., being able to develop a relationship face-to-face) is a great contributor to relationship building, which can be nurtured through periodic or frequent contact online.

      What is happening now is an entirely new few of connectivity, with online venue completely replacing face-to-face contact and that this has become the new relational reality. I think it would be interested to see some research regarding online social networking usage related to the development of spiritual friendship (i.e., how much usage is to nurture an existing relationship and how much usage is to actually foster new relationships.

      Overall, I believe the basic issue is trust. We rarely become friends with someone we do not trust. And we most often do not enter relationships with those we do not know, unless through a trusted mutual friend.

      You make a solid point that close proximity nurtures close relationships, and to this I agree heartily. God has designed the human person with a need for relational connectivity and nurture. I’m fascinated with the reactions of younger Christian readers to this topic, as they are growing up with these social networks as the very fabric of relational interaction.

      I believe that God wants to use all venues to foster our Christian spirituality. If face-to-face relational connections became passe, the entire transportation industry (i.e., air, train, bus) would be severly impacted. I think of the amount of money that is spent to rekindle human relationships with friends and family at Christmas, Thanksgiving, other holidays, and during vacations.

      The internet cannot transport us physically from one place to the other….well, at least not yet!

      Thank you again for sharing your helpful comments in this discussion and hope you post on our blog in the future.

      Diane

  3. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for your response. It is interesting that responses will vary based on age. I did not grow up with being on an electronic screen. And yet there are so many who are. Hence being online becomes a life source. We are an over-stimulized culture who has difficulty in spiritual practices of quiet, reflection, and contemplation.

    Being plugged into all this technology is actually changing the human brain (i.e., see the book: iBrain: Surviving the Technilogical Alteration of the Modern Mind by Gary Small). Mind studies are being conducted on this generation of young people (affectionately called “Screenagers” because of the amount of time they spend in front of a screen (smart phone, laptop).

    If, as you suggest, communication because of technology has become impersonal, might this be a generational thing? If so, how might we view this from a young person’s perspective? And if there might be resulting deficiencies in social skills, how might this be countered?

    Diane