Leaving the Screen: Restoring In-Person Relationships

How often do we let social media distract us when friends and family are sitting next to us?

I don’t intend to bind anyone’s conscience. The Lord has given each of us a unique stewardship. But recent weeks have led me to take a serious inventory of my social media use. The conclusion: I’ve all but kissed Facebook goodbye. I still have an account, partly for professional reasons, but I’m striving to minimize my usage. I’ve come to believe that posting articles and partaking in debates on this medium is far less profitable than I once thought. I’m seeking a return to more intimate ways to build relationships with friends and family.

 

As our country continues down an unprecedented and uncertain path, so many of us find our desire to discuss and debate recent events, and their immense significance, growing greatly. Social media conveniently provides a place for such conversations, but it doesn’t come without a cost.

The discourse can quickly become vitriolic when sensitive topics like race and gender, which have filled the headlines in recent weeks, are being debated. I am not here to add another opinion. Instead, I want to humbly propose a suggestion.

I don’t intend to bind anyone’s conscience. The Lord has given each of us a unique stewardship. But recent weeks have led me to take a serious inventory of my social media use. The conclusion: I’ve all but kissed Facebook goodbye. I still have an account, partly for professional reasons, but I’m striving to minimize my usage. I’ve come to believe that posting articles and partaking in debates on this medium is far less profitable than I once thought. I’m seeking a return to more intimate ways to build relationships with friends and family.

I feel foolish devoting an essay to such a trivial decision, but I think it’s merited because of social media’s outsized role in my life, and the lives of many others. This election made me painfully aware of its limitations.

Social media can be a great venue for sharing those vacation photos and pet videos. It’s not the ideal medium for most debates, especially political ones, though. Problems arise when our time spent on social media, regardless of its purpose, comes in lieu of conversation.

The Apostle Paul knew the value of face-to-face conversation. He wasn’t content to simply write letters to his fellow Christians. He expressed his longing to visit the congregations to which he wrote (Rom. 1:11). He sent trusted representatives like Timothy in his absence (1 Cor. 16:10) and encouraged others to visit him (Titus 3:12). He visited both to encourage (Rom. 1:12) and admonish (2 Cor. 13:2).

I’m not calling for complete disengagement from social media. Disengagement is an overreaction the church has been guilty of, and it’s not necessary in this case. Technology, from the printing press to iTunes, has been widely used in the promulgation of the gospel. God’s sovereignty extends to the digital realm, and we’re called to be wise stewards there, as well.

Instead, I am asking people, beginning with myself, to analyze our social media use and determine if we should adjust our habits to make wiser use of the time (Eph. 5:16) in order to better love and serve God and neighbor.

More face-to-face time

The appeal of Facebook is obvious: We can instantly share a photo, article or our own musings with hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Greater numbers do not always mean greater impact, though. A conversation with a handful of people can be exponentially more meaningful than a link posted on our Facebook wall. Marginalized communities need our service, not a self-serving show of support on social media.

Are we engaging more with our online communities than our real-life ones? Would it be wiser to discuss today’s issues over dinner with our co-workers and neighbors, including those with whom we disagree, instead of Facebook friends and Twitter followers? Our Internet use may not impact our church attendance, but does it take away from time that could be spent stirring up one another to love and good works? (Heb. 10:24-25)

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