Facebook says I have 360 friends. That is the total number of people who have, for some reason or another, agreed that they like enough about me and want to follow my life as a Christian, pastor, and husband. They people I’ve known since my childhood, people I worked with in my previous career, people I met in college and seminary, family members, church members, and, of course, fellow pastors.
But, 360 friends? That is twice the number of my high school graduating class. With that many friends, my calendar should be full with various activities with that unique collection of 360 people. Anyone who spends time on Facebook knows that might not be the case. The number of friends one has on Facebook does not show the number of close friends people have in their life.
Facebook is a Catch 22. On one hand, Facebook, and other social media sites, creates opportunities for connections that likely would not have been possible. On the other hand, social media sites strip away the basic ingredient to lasting friendships – face-to-face interaction – and replaces it with a marketing platform.
Social media is here to stay. There is no denying the power and influence social networks have in our daily lives. We must be willing to acknowledge both the good and bad that social networks offer regarding friendships.
Positive: Social media provides opportunities for reconnection. Social networking allows for people to reconnect with lost friends. Among those who follow me on Facebook are friends I had lost contact with. It is great to hear how they are doing and reconnect. This has brought joy to me and, I am sure, to those I have reconnected with. Without social networking, these reconnections would not have been possible.
Positive: Social media allows for quicker communication. As a pastor, social media is a blessing. I can receive prayer requests from church members and interact with them on a regular basis outside of the walls of church. Pastors have been among the leaders of the “Twitter revolution.” Social media gives pastors a quicker mode of communication to reach people, both inside and outside the church. A pastor’s use of social media must have boundaries in place. As for our friendships, social media allows us to share more quickly with our “friends.” Think of the many couples who have shared the wonderful news of an upcoming wedding or birth on Facebook. In this way, social media serves as a quicker phone tree to share information.
There are also negatives to using social media.
Negative: Social media can promote a false sense of connection. The number of “friends” on our Facebook pages does not indicate the number of close friends we have in our lives that we can depend upon. In this way, Facebook can promote a false sense of connection and deep relationship. What Facebook friends may be are deep acquaintances. True friendships must be fostered through regular interaction and personal sharing of life with one another. Social media cannot replace personal face-to-face communication with our friends.
Negative: Social media can create feelings of inadequacy. A recent Stanford study found that social media can promote the idea that everyone is happy. This is because we become self editors. We can edit what we share with others. It is only natural that we would want to put a positive spin on our lives. Why share that you didn’t do anything exciting except for watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and did the laundry? We paint the picture that everything is great, because we want people to see us as happy and that everything is OK. As the study suggests, by painting this picture we promote a false identity. Even more, there is the potential for someone to value their life based on the “great” life that they see their “friends” having on Facebook, which can create a sense of inadequacy. Social media users must be careful to not take it too seriously and to be honest about what they post. Of course, we must have boundaries in what we share with others, whether it is on Facebook or in face-to-face communications.
Social media has an important role to play in our lives. It can have both positive and negative influences on our friendships. We would be wise to consider how we use social media and what impact it has on our friendships. Social media cannot replace face-to-face friendships, which is the only true way to develop lasting and healthy relationships with our friends.