With the increasing popularity of online social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, there has been an obvious cry about the virtual connections that people are making online. Terms like "false community" and "fake friendships" get bandied about regularly, usually from older generations that are unfamiliar with these new forms of media.
As a minister that works with college students, I am familiar with the dominant role that online networking plays in the lives of young people. Although I am genuinely concerned that these online connections will take the place of face-to-face interactions, but I don't feel that they are "all bad." Just like anything else, things like Facebook have positive aspects, as well as negative ones. It's up to us to choose how we will use them.
Agreed, there are those that have an unhealthy addictions online. I know people that spend hours each day on Facebook posting pictures, writing on people's walls, taking quizzes, playing games and searching for new friends. If they are never spending time socially live and in person with friends, that should be a concern.
Because of my role in our ministry, I have the opportunity to travel and meet lots of new people. Many of these individuals are on Facebook and I become "friends" with them online after meeting them. On average, I probably spend less than 15 minutes a day on Facebook for personal reasons. I spend additional time on there when it's related to our ministry, but it's not a huge time commitment.
Since I have close to 1,000 Facebook friends, one might assume that most of those friends are people I've never met. That assumption would be false. There are probably 20-30 people that I haven't met personally and most of those we have a legitimate connection through a mutual friend. Granted, a lot of my friends on Facebook are merely acquaintances that I've only met once or twice. But establishing an online friendship with them has allowed me to stay in touch and get to know them better.
Some would argue that those friendships are meaningless because it is taking place virtually and not face-to-face. But would they wish that we lost touch altogether? Because of Facebook, I've been able to re-establish connections with friends from childhood and relatives that I hardly ever get to see. Because I've lived in several different parts of the country and frequently travel, I have friends all over the place. Facebook allows me to keep in touch with those friends in way that a yearly Christmas card doesnn't allow.
Facebook is not inherently bad. We have a choice on how we want to utilize it. As my friend Ryan McReynolds wisely notes, we could easily compare Facebook to the printing press or the telephone. Some of the most ardent critics of Facebook are those that spend significant time curled up with books written by dead people that they'll never meet. The irony is striking. Face-to-face communication should be our preferred method of relating to one another, but when that isn't possible, I'd rather connect online than not connect at all.