When it comes to social networking and Christianity, there are often two kinds of responses from Christians: One is that social networking is bad because it corrupts the nature of real relationships, and the other is that social networking is awesome because you can reach the whole world right from your fingertips. I would gather that for most of us, the answer is probably somewhere in-between.
First off, what I mean by social networking is the digital communication software we use to interact with our friends, colleagues, or people with common interests. ‘Facebook, Twitter, last.fm, and Linkedin’ are probably the most popular, but websites that offer services for dating, media sharing, and topic based discussions can also be labeled as a form of social networking. Unlike email or chat tools, Social media takes it a step further by storing user profiles, creating group environments, and establishing rules of engagement.
For as long as people have been around, there have always been forms of communication. From pictograms, to scrolls, to paper, to telegraphs, to telephones, to emails, etc… but nothing like the explosion of the digital age. Every year there are newer forms of devices and technologies that allow us to communicate in all sorts of interesting ways. Social networking is here to stay and is continually evolving in rapid pace.
Now, I can certainly write a long list of both the benefits and problems with social networking but I’m going to guess that you are familiar with those already ,aren’t you? You must know that there are privacy concerns; that you can become highly addicted to using these tools; that these tools make it easy for you to gossip and slander; that you can become self-absorbed with a virtual identity; that you can become narcissistic. On the benefits side of things… you can meet new friends, find old friends, discover new relationships and opportunities, and share important insights with people all around the world.
So what does this have to do with the Christian?
I want to speak to Christians here because I believe that you were called to represent Jesus in this world, and you have certain convictions and desires in how you want to communicate and engage in relationships. Rather than define what I think is good and bad in social networking, I would prefer to offer some personal experiences and hope that is helpful for you.
There are times when I feel like I want to totally unplug from technology, and other times when I see social networking as an incredible form of communication. However, the major principle that I ground myself with… is that social networking is not a substitute for personal relationships but is an addition to it. It is not meant to replace the real face-to-face interaction, but is more akin to ‘surface’ relationships, or virtual talk. It’s good communication, but can only take you so deep.
So here goes…
As a Christian in social networking, I have made new friends in far away places that are doing some interesting things to help their communities. I have rediscovered some old friends to continue conversations and share memories. I have witnessed friends who have found each other and are now happily married via social networking sites. As a Christian, I am learning more and more about how people cope with struggles and have accomplished incredible feats — sharing their stories.
In contrast… As a Christian, I have mistakenly allowed emotional issues (on politics, news, etc) to argue and de-value somebody’s opinion in order to win an argument; I have found myself self-absorbed with my own interests to promote a virtual brand of myself; I have sometimes neglected my work in favor of social networking; I have depended on social networking all too often as a means of acceptance.
In conclusion, I would say that the important lesson about social networking is that it is essentially a public platform, and what you say or do in the virtual world, is still representative of who you are as a person. Be cautious, be honest, and allow your convictions to dictate your actions. In short, when you enter the world of social media, bring Jesus with you.