Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Facebook suicide’? I hadn’t until recently. I was reading some comments from social researcher Hugh Mackay. Hugh was talking about our obsession with all things on YouTube, Facebook and other social media. It refers to when we fail to make meaningful contact with others.
Mackay said someone in his extended family committed ‘Facebook suicide’ and told him, I realised I had become a lazy friend, doing everything on Facebook. We were not ringing each other up or meeting for coffee. So I have to disconnect from this. Hugh Mackay tells of someone who had visited Europe. In Milan, many young people have stopped using social media: If they want me, they will find me. Come and speak with me.
Our focus on social media
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say social media has gripped our lives. For those of us (including me) who are older, new technology can be a challenge. We had to learn the hard way, without the advantage of youthfulness. It has been quite an exciting journey.
Gone are the days of posting a card or letter to offer a word of support or encouragement. Instead, we want their email address. The point to all this is a simple question: do we make personal contact anymore? Is it easier to send an email or post a thought on Facebook than phone up a friend?
I guess it’s all about communication. Let me give you another quote from the very clever Hugh Mackay again:
I think we all have to become more mindful of the available hours in the day and the amount of time we are spending with a screen. No-one would say, My mobile phone is more important to me than my girlfriend or My mobile phone is more important to me than my family.
We need more personal communication
He encourages his readers to evaluate how much face-to-face communication is going on. Researchers like Hugh Mackay often say that about 10% of the total meaning of a conversation can be tracked to the words we speak. Ninety percent comes from the tone of our voice, facial expression, our posture, hand gestures, how we are dressed, and what kind of setting we are in.
Unless you live on a desert island, we mix with people all the time. We can’t avoid it. Yet we often struggle in this area. Rick Ezell says it well in his post, The Need for Relationships:
In many respects that elevator is a symbol of our world today: a large, impersonal institution where minding your own business, isolation, and independence are the uniform of the day. It shows us that people can be surrounded by other people in a crowded setting, and not experience community. We can be a part of a company, a club, or a church and not feel we belong or are accepted. We can share a carpool, an office, and even a home and not have significant relationships.
Mackay says, “I think we would shock ourselves if we started calculating where our time goes. Where our time goes tells us where our heart is”. Is it because we are becoming more self-centred and unrestrained?
Researcher Mark Vernon, writing in USA Today, agrees:
While social networking sites and the like have grown exponentially, the element that is crucial, and harder to investigate, is the quality of the connections they nurture. . . . A connection may only be a click away, but cultivating a good friendship takes more. It seems common sense to conclude that ‘friending’ online nurtures shallow relationships.
His advice for maintaining real friendships is simple: “Put down the device; engage the person.”
The second greatest Commandment
The Christian faith enforces the idea we are made for each other. Steven J. Cole writes:
Healthy relationships make life enjoyable perhaps more than anything else. Even if your health isn’t the best, if you have loving relationships, you can enjoy life. You can make a pile of money, but if your relationships are broken or shallow, your life will be empty. A poor man with a loving family and good friends is far richer than a rich man who is poor relationally.
The Bible ranks healthy relationships as the most important thing in life. A Jewish religious expert asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Make the most of every living and breathing moment.
A loving relationship with God is of first importance, but loving relationships with others is second. The Bible is all about these two important relationships. Ephesians 5:15-16 says: “So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. walk as the wise! Make the most of every living and breathing moment.”
I am a user of social media and enjoy doing so. But I can see the dangers of missing many opportunities of making personal contact with others if I’m glued to my smartphone. It was missionary Jim Elliott, the young man killed by the Auca Indians in 1956 who famously said, “Wherever you are, be all there”.
Let’s do more in engaging with people, face-to-face, and share from our heart.