The general thrust of social networking is aided by today’s technology that presents a constant online presence. Laptops and smart phones have made Internet connectivity portable, and that allows people to always be connected to their “friends,” wherever they are.
Facebook as the Medium
David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, describes Facebook as created to connect people and allow them to share information with others. When Facebook launched in 2004, social media were no new concept. The public had already been exposed to MySpace and Friendster. But Facebook was different. Its creator, Mark Zuckerberg, understood that those around him functioned off of relationships. So he catered to that. He built a website that allows people to connect and communicate with other people very easily with content that is entirely their own.
This constant connectedness that is both virtual and entirely individualistic in practice is beginning to have some bearing on interpersonal relationships. Several questions are being raised; particularly, does the quality of someone’s friendships increase or decrease because everyone is so easily connected?
With this question in mind, six female Christian young adults were interviewed in an attempt to prove if Facebook, as a specific social medium, increases the dissatisfaction with their various interpersonal relationships. The results were enigmatic.
Who are Young Adults?
But first, to better understand these young adults— constituting anyone between the ages of 18 and 25—a brief look at their behavioral needs will be helpful. The 20th century developmental psychologist Erik Erikson developed an eight-stage personality theory that is applied throughout a lifespan. Young adults are placed in his sixth stage of psychosocial development which is known as intimacy vs. isolation.
The “intimacy” of his theory refers to a relationship that requires self-disclosure, sacrifice, compromise, and the giving of oneself in some measure. Conversely, “isolation” refers to one who has no support system of any kind, which leads to self-absorption.
Friendships become the base on which intimacy or isolation rests because young adults are looking to relationships to fix their slight identity crises. Psychologist Diane Papalia says friends are highly valued because they provide companionship, advice, support and self-expression. These attributes lead to the ability to self-disclose with others in a time when emerging adults are finding their places outside of the families they were reared in.
Same Song, Six Different Verses
All this considered, meet my six interviewees. These women are all professing believers between the ages of 18 and 25 and have each been using Facebook since at least high school. The first question I posed asked what effects Facebook was having on their interpersonal relationships.
Lauren, 18, plainly said she is less inclined to call her friends and hear their voices because she can just “check-up” on them through Facebook, and she doesn’t like that.
Carissa, 23, thinks Facebook gives people a “false sense of connectivity” with so many people who are called “friends,” and this creates shallow relationships. In turn, this leads to trivial and meaningless conversations, and she doesn’t like that.
Generally, those interviewed said Facebook makes them discontent with their friendships because they lack face-to-face interactions; however, most have no intentions of deactivating their accounts. When asked why, some said they don’t want to be forgotten, and others want to be able to keep in touch with those who live far away.
So what does this mean for Christian fellowship, for those called to live as members of the Body of Christ? The consensus: Facebook hurts fellowship. Ashley, 21, told of how she often finds herself with a group of friends, and most of them will use their iPhones to check their profiles when they are all together. She said this is distracting, especially while people are physically in fellowship but concentrating on Facebook.
Kari, 18, whose home church is experiencing a shift in leadership said Facebook causes conflict because church members use it as a platform for voicing opinions that ought to be voiced in person. She mentioned how approaching someone in person is biblical, as opposed to “verbally abusing others over Facebook.” This is building mistrust among her fellow church members.
There were several other stories of what Facebook is doing to fellowship and relationships, but generally speaking, none of them were good. So a quandary remains: Facebook is about people and relationships. Young adults are looking for people and relationships. Therefore, young adults look to Facebook as a means of fulfilling deep-seeded desires to be known even though it makes them unhappy.
So—it needs to be asked— is this the end of true, biblical fellowship? By God’s grace, no. These young women exemplified one particular truth that is sometimes lost in the midst of status updates, likes, pokes and comments. As Ashley plainly said, “I can be your friend without being your Facebook friend.”
Although dissatisfied, this generation understands that Facebook is not the extent of interpersonal relationships; it is an extension. This generation understands what it means to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. And moving forward into a networked future, Millennial Christians can teach the next generation what it means to share life with one another in a God-honoring way.
Article Submitted to Christianity Today on December 12, 2011.
Kirkpatrick, David. The Facebook Effect: the inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print.
Papalia, Diane E., Sally Wendkos Olds, and Ruth Duskin Feldman. Human Development. 9th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print.