Truth be told, I’ve started dreaming of the day when we say to one another, “Remember when social media was so popular? Yeah, that was nutty. Thank God it’s over.”
Realistically, I suppose it never will be, but lately I’ve found myself so aware of the downside of these interactions. They are communication rich but relationally poor. Yes, I know what is happening in the lives of people I would otherwise probably never contact (and many of them I would like to contact) and that’s maybe the reason I don’t quit altogether.
But it’s also become the equivalent of an increasingly crowded party where people fight for air time, value is measured in likes and retweets, a marketplace for comparison and shaming. Comments that seem witty on Twitter if said aloud in company to a person’s face would be unacceptably rude. It’s an environment where there is little accountability for the impact of our social interactions. People talk about being in “community” online, but it falls so short of what true community looks like.
Sometimes social media feels like a train rushing off somewhere to interesting places, and we’d better hop on or we’ll lose out. But the reality is that there is nothing new under the sun – that train is just circling the block over and over again, only in greater volume and with stronger opinions than before. What would happen if we shut down the noise? What if tomorrow Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Tumblr and Instagram ceased to exist? Would we lose anything? Or would we gain?
I wonder if it would give us space to connect with people again, really. It might force us to call those people we wouldn’t see on Facebook. It would blow away the chaff of unnecessary information and opinions that are thrown out there. It might force people to be accountable for their words again.
I’m not saying social media cannot be used for good. I just want to remind all of us not to let it be a substitute for true connection. Like someone who snacks all day and never takes in a full meal, we can waste all our relational energy on surface connection and never reach true depth with others.
There is no substitute for real relationships. What we need is not one more person to validate our opinions or like our activities. We need people who linger with us for more than 140 words. We need people who will call us on what we say and how we say it. We don’t need the world to tell us our worth. We need real people. We need real interactions. There is no substitute.