The Facebook Fast
Uber-blogger, Anne Jackson, says the web creates connection but not community.
Blogging. Facebook. Twitter. Those three things are practically my middle name. I've been called a “social media butterfly” over the last four years.
The question of "Can community happen online?" which has been the topic of conversation on this blog recently, has also been asked wherever I go. At conferences, at churches, and yes, even at the local cafe where by chance, a Facebook friend recognizes me. Sorry. I have to admit. I usually don't know who you are.
Shane Hipps has spoken. Scot McKnight has spoken. And now, it’s my turn to add another view into this virtual world.
During my four years as the leader of a very thriving blog (FlowerDust.net), I've seen many incredible things happen. I've seen believers and unbelievers unite in generously donating close to $200,000 to social justice and poverty. I've seen people openly discuss taboo subjects: pornography, depression, anxiety, gay lifestyles, and theologically grey topics.
In some instances, these online conversations have translated into personal communication (by email, chats, or phone) and some have even turned into face-to-face meetings. The platforms of social media certainly give these personal interactions a "jump start" so to speak, because you do, in some regard, know bits and pieces of the other person's life.
But this is where it gets muddy for me. Is it community?
Given my experience living in both worlds, it may be surprising to hear, but I am beginning to lean on the side of no—what happens online is not community. Before you send me an army of frowning emoticons, please hear me out:
I believe what happens online is connection—not community.
People can be vulnerable and honest online. And at times these online connections can be more life-giving than many of our offline relationships, but they are not the same.
During Lent, I am going to close my blog down. I am not going to Twitter, or update my Facebook profile. I'll still email people, and chat with my friends, but for those few weeks my social networking is getting put on hold. There are a variety of reasons, of which I'll detail on my personal blog shortly, but a small part of this is a personal social experiment. I want to discover whether my online life gets in the way of my offline life. And do others' online lives get in the way of their offline lives?
I'll leave you with a couple small, hypothetical examples. Let’s say my friend (who lives in Nashville with me) puts a note on Twitter about having a girls' night. I miss the invitation because of my online Lenten fast, but since most of our "group" is plugged in, everyone else gets it. I'm at home cleaning my bathrooms, unaware of this event. In this case being online would have aided my offline relationships.
Or to take it one step further. Imagine I post about having dinner with a group of friends. Someone else in our online circle sees these updates and wonders why he or she wasn't invited. Although the uninvited person is internalizing the situation, it can still cause a serious sense of isolation and insecurity which then creates tension in our offline relationship. In this case my online life would be detrimental to my offline friendship.
I’m hoping my Lenten experiment will give me more clarity about whether my online life is benefiting my offline relationships.
Online connections are good. They can be deep and good for our souls. But when we turn them into an online community, they can, and do, impact our face-to-face interactions. When we spend more time staring at a glowing monitor than we do into the eyes of those we love, or need to love, it might be time to shut off the computer.
Anne Jackson is on staff at Cross Point Church in Nashville, and blogs at Flowerdust.net. She is also the author of Mad Church Disease (Zondervan, 2009).