Community in the Facebook Era
I've always been a face-to-face guy.
There has rarely been a time in my life when my phone has rung and I've wanted to answer. Seriously. I hate talking on the phone. Even with people I want to talk to.
I like personal interactions and face-to-face communication. Even as a kid I was that way.
Something about talking on the phone always seemed somewhat superficial to me; like I was missing parts of the conversation or hiding who I really was. It's kind of neurotic, I know, and I don't write this to tell people not to call me. Call me. I'll answer with a smile. The point is I've always felt the distance between the person with whom I'm communication via telephone.
Enter social media.
I fought joining Facebook and other similar platforms during the early years. In fact at one point I swore never to join Facebook. I thought of it as a platform for people to talk about what they were eating and sharing unnecessary life details.
And for awhile that's kind of what it was.
But social media evolved and I came to understand the importance of it. Community suddenly became global. People I'd met while working and serving in Brazil were now a click away. Photos of their children, experiences, and heartaches all came center stage, and I could share mine too.
The distance persisted though. Studies began to show how we compare ourselves to others on social media and fall into depression because we only share our brightest moments. In-person communication dropped. Texting became the norm.
Full disclosure: I LOVE texting. It's the best.
But texting, like social media, puts distance between the individuals communicating. It cuts out key elements of our understanding of what another person implies and the meaning behind their words.
No wonder there is so much miscommunication, misunderstanding, and division in the 21st Century. It's not because we're suddenly more or less able to empathize with other people and their world view, it's that we're not communicating in the most effective ways.
So the question is posed: what do we do about it?
Facebook, Instagram, and all the other social media marvels have provided us with very comfortable armor.
For me it comes down to a renewal of face-to-face interaction. I think we get comfortable with the distance we have between us and other people. We feel safer; less exposed and vulnerable. We see it in marriages, we see it in friendships, we see it in political rivals. It's easy to go unchallenged in what we think and feel when the only voice we hear is our own. Once we break down that distance though, we open ourselves up, which invites fear to rear its ugly head.
I understand this really well.
As a creator it's easy to feel naked when you put your art out there for people to judge. Our personal interactions are the same way. When we take off our armor we leave ourselves open to attack, whether real or perceived. And Facebook, Instagram, and all the other social media marvels have provided us with very comfortable armor. Casting it off isn't easy.
Neither is rebuilding community though.
I love the modern world. I truly do. I'm not one to look back to the old days and lament the next generation and their lame music (am I the only one thinking how derivative all the songs are though?). I love smartphones and internet and Netflix, and yes, Facebook. I love all of it.
But unless we can regain some of our passion for face-to-face interaction we risk creating more distance between ourselves and the people around us.
That may sound a little superficially pious coming from a blog post, but I needed to put my thoughts somewhere.
Building community takes time and effort, sprinkled with disappointment and patience. It takes more than one person striving to make it happen. We've been able to do it pretty effectively in the digital space, and it's given so many people a voice.
Now if we can just move some of it back to the real face-to-face world, I think we'll see a little less conflict and a little better communication. We'll add real laughter, real tears, and real empathy. I can't be the only person out there who comes across a Facebook post that is obviously heartfelt and full of longing, and I hit 'Like' real quick so I don't have to read it.
It's harder to move past a person's pain when they're sitting right in front of you. It's also harder to feel alone.
And that's the beauty of it. That's real interaction. That's real communication.
So let's all give it a try. Let's set up those double dates we always talk about but never go through with. Let's show up at that friend's music concert they keep nudging us about. Let's go out and meet and mingle with many so we can gain a better perspective on what life is like for everyone around us; the good and the bad.
It's time to reach out and laugh together like we did in our memories. Let's throw a party. Let's have fun.
Just remember, if you're going to call me on the phone about it, I may not want to answer.