The advent of the internet has brought with it a slew of warnings about the danger of spending too much time online or counting on social media for our friendships.
However, while there are certainly cautions we need to be aware of, there are also very real benefits to cultivating friendships online and through social media.
Since 2003, some of my closest friends have been “living in the computer,” as we like to say. Just after we got married, my husband and I moved from the metropolitan D.C. area to the southwestern corner of Utah, where we knew no one (that seems to be our M.O.), and although we were involved in our church, I also found myself joining various online forums—like the Sonlight homeschooling forum and a couple of work-at-home mom forums—for additional connections.
Through those forums, I developed a number of close friendships—and I’m still close to some of those women today.
Because I work online and live in the boonies, building friendships online has allowed me to have that connection and support even when I didn’t have time for play dates and coffee. I’ve developed friendships that include in-person visits, family vacations together, phone calls with good news or bad. These are friendships that challenge my thinking, encourage me to do better, and support me when things are tough. And because of the unique challenges of working online, these friends offer a unique kind of support because they “get” this whole blogging thing.
While my time online, and therefore those friendships, have ebbed and flowed, there’s nothing about them that makes them any different from the local friends I have except that our main communication takes place on Skype or Facebook Messenger rather than on the phone or face-to-face.
In this way, the internet offers us the unique opportunity to build relationships when time or location are limited. It also offers us a way to continue investing in “real life” but long distance relationships.
That said, there is still something to be said for those in-person connections. There’s a huge benefit to having a conversation over a cup of coffee or while watching the kids play, especially because you can schedule that time away from the busyness of life as an opportunity for rest (which we’ll talk about more next month).
The biggest danger in using social media to fill our need for connection, though, is that most of our interactions over social media are fairly shallow. If your “friendships” online all consist of public conversations on Facebook, Instagram or another social media platform, there’s little opportunity to go really deep in those relationships.
The problem with that is that those shallow interactions can feel fulfilling at first—maybe even more fulfilling than face-to-face relationships. Interacting with 50/100/500/however many people makes you feel like you’re surrounded by people who care, and that gives you a very strong sense of belonging. Because it’s “easy” to communicate with that many people online, it can be tempting to ignore the harder in-person relationships. The reality, though, is that most of those relationships are much shallower than a true friendship, and being surrounded by hundreds of people online can actually end up feeling pretty lonely.
The key, then, is to find a balance, where you’re using social media and the internet to meet new people, to interact with the people who you might not have a chance to interact with otherwise, to gain a variety of perspectives and so on, all while being very aware of your need for in-person relationships.
If you’re turning down face-to-face interactions because you’d rather spend time online, there may be a problem. If you have hundreds of “friends” and belong to dozens of groups but still feel lonely, it’s probably time to invest in finding friends locally. And if you’re finding that your self-worth is being affected by the number of likes or comments on a post, it’s probably time to evaluate the amount of time you’re online.
But if you’re in a place or season where in-person get-togethers are difficult and you’ve found ways to connect deeply with people online, I think you’re doing just fine!
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
- Do you have an example of the internet or social media benefitting your friendships?
- How do you keep from becoming to dependent on the shallow interactions that we often find on the internet or social media?
- I’m a fan of private Facebook groups, not just for things like this course but for connecting with my “tribes” online when we’re not together. Is there a group you’re part of that could benefit by that type of interaction?