I’ve recently returned from a visit to India where I had the privilege of being involved in teaching and training developing church leaders. It was a great time and I enjoyed experiencing both North and South India, its people and its food.
We were without an internet connection during the entire week which made me realise just how dependent on it many of us have become – for better or worse. Sounds like a marriage – and for many of us it almost is!
Of course the internet has brought so many benefits to us. I’ve been able to see and speak to my family free of charge using Skype or Facetime when I’ve been in Canada. We can quickly and easily send messages to each other without having to wait for the postman to finally arrive (not that we had to wait in the past). And we can access all the information we could ever need within seconds. On top of this our church Facebook group helps us to quickly communicate important information to the majority of the church and mobilise people to pray.
And if it weren’t for the internet you wouldn’t be reading this blog – although it still amazes me how I get readers living in places like Korea, Uganda and Finland.
But some of the accompanying negatives concern me – especially regarding social media such as Facebook. Many of these are covered in Tim Chester’s excellent book Will You Be My Facebook Friend , which interestingly isn’t available in ‘hard copy’. From now on I will refer to ‘Facebook’ for the sake of convenience, but much of what I say can be applied to other forms of social media.
Facebook tempts us to withdraw from ‘real’ face to face interaction with people. Of course people used to say that about the telephone, but the difference with Facebook is that it’s very easy to create an ‘alternative you’ which you present to the world. Profiles are carefully crafted. Instagram pictures add to the desired effect. Our online persona can be very different to the real deal – warts and all.
I’ve noticed that the younger people in our church who have grown up with Facebook are increasingly uncomfortable talking about issues face to face and prefer to communicate electronically. It’s sometimes hard to get past the mask or the screen.
Also, our Facebook life is lived out in public. Just today I have been party to a coffee date being arranged by two people and the giving and receiving of a gift (although I’m still left guessing what it was). Sometimes we are voyeurs into conversations between lovers. Much of this is irritating at worst, but sometimes convenience means that sensitivity can be forgotten.
People struggling with infertility can suddenly be presented with a picture of the scan of their friends soon to be born baby. The convenience of letting everyone know the good news at the same time brings a one size fits all approach. Those same people wouldn’t dream of walking up to their grieving friends and shoving the same pic in their face without warning but Facebook lets you do it without even thinking of the consequences.
There are many similar examples – and I’m sure that I have fallen foul of lots of them.
Those of us who are leaders can also try to lead solely through Facebook. It’s a big mistake. Of course we can encourage folk en masse but asking for volunteers for an activity online is no substitute for a personal conversation where you can much more easily communicate faith and vision. But it’s easy. It’s convenient. And we hope it will produce quick results. It’s more likely to leave people feeling pressured.
I’m sure there are many more pros and cons. Perhaps you would like to comment and let me know. Don’t bother chatting to me – just click the button below!
The internet and social media aren’t going away. And we can and should use them to our benefit, and God’s glory. But let’s use them with our minds engaged and our sensitivity switched on. And let’s show ourselves as we are and not as we would like to be seen.