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Social Media and Our Epidemic of Loneliness

Facebook photo, Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com

Facebook photo, Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com

The recent cover article in The Atlantic called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” (Stephen Marche) is worth sharing. It’s about a growing trend of social isolation and loneliness in our culture, despite innumerable social media connections we use to counteract that problem.

As good as the article itself is, the title is misleading, I think. Though I agree with each of the points made about the epidemic levels of loneliness we’re experiencing, I would argue that sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are byproducts of this isolation, rather than the cause of the loneliness.

When they become problematic is when we rely on them to be a surrogate for real, face-to-face relationship. I consider that akin to sitting on your couch and taking stimulants to lose weight, rather than changing your exercise and diet habits. Sure, you may get some results, but at what greater cost?

Dear Sojo Commenters

Sign at the entrance of Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, CA. Photo via Getty Images.

Sign at the entrance of Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, CA. Photo via Getty Images.

Good morning, y'all,

You may recall back a post back in January where I expressed our ongoing concern about the tenor of many comments on our site. I said at the time that in order to (hopefully) curtail the snark that had infiltrated our comments sections, we would be rolling out new protocols for readers who wish to leave their public feedback on posts, including a mandatory sign-in via Facebook.

Well, the day of reckoning is upon us.

In the Stacks: Required Reading with Duane Shank

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.

One of my must reads is the Sunday New York Times Book Review. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written.

Last Sunday, the Review ran an essay on how books affect Washington policy makers. Lawrence Summers, former director of the National Economic Council, says that a good review can often summarize what’s necessary for a policy maker to learn. He was quoted as saying, “If you tell me that the policy makers are reading the reviews, not the books, I don’t take that as evidence that the books aren’t influential.”

While I don’t fancy myself as a policy maker, the sentiment is also true for the rest of us.

Learn about two such new titles that may have an impact on public policy inside the blog...

Lent (or Why I Need a Break from the 'Like' Button)

Photo via Getty Images.

Photo via Getty Images.

Consciously or not, when we recognize the need to step away from social media, it is because we are questioning who is in control.

If our default is to ask life’s big questions on Twitter before we offer them in prayer, then someone other than God is in control. If we "Like" what someone is doing of Facebook before we recognize everything God is doing in our lives, maybe we need a social media time-out.

Lent is the right time to realign ourselves with the fact that God should be in control in our lives.

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online

Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.

Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.

“There is no distance in the Spirit.”

After 30 years as a believer, I experienced the truth of that statement — powerfully and indelibly — in an unlikely place: online.

Like so many of more than 500 million (and growing) members, I signed up for Facebook, the social networking site, a few years ago out of pure curiosity -- to check in with old friends, boyfriends and former colleagues from a safe distance. With its plethora of personal photos, videos and regular “status updates” from members, it was a voyeuristic paradise, not to mention an excellent place to kill time.

I am by vocation a journalist, author and blogger and had grown accustomed to sharing glimpses of my life in print and online. Facebook was just another venue to do that, but little more.

That is, until early one morning in April 2008 when I signed on to my account, wiping sleep from my eyes with coffee in hand, and noticed the status update of a friend from college: “David is really sad that Mark died today.”

Facebook: The New Public Square

"Facebook" illustration via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3185202042

"Facebook" illustration via Wylio, http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3185202042.

Even though I use Facebook frequently, I doubt my usage pattern will justify a $100 billion valuation for the company or send a new crop of Silicon Valley paper millionaires to Ferrari dealerships.

I never click on sidebar ads, I immediately block all games, and I have no intention of using Facebook's virtual money. I've done some advertising -- to little effect -- and will do more, but not much.

On the other hand, I find Facebook intriguing, sobering and oddly encouraging. To me, Facebook is an intriguing window on the world. It's the raw stuff of human diversity, not filtered through self-serving politicians or media summaries. When I decided to "friend" people whose views differ from mine, little did I know how much we differ.

Name an issue — say, the recent dust-up over breast cancer funding for Planned Parenthood — and I read not only the rage and indignation of fervent extremes, but deep divisions within the sensible middle. The hope that we could find common ground by moving to the middle could be delusional. Divisions are still there, but maybe they're just calmer.

I Love Jesus, But I Swear A Little

Swearing. Photo via Getty Images.

Swearing. Photo via Getty Images.

An Open Invitation to Unfriend Me on Facebook, Stop Following Me on Twitter and Discontinue Reading My Blog if You Need To:

If you are a Christian who takes offense at swear words or believes for some reason that clergy should never be cranky or irritated, then I am not the person for you to follow.  It’s ok.  You don’t actually need me. The entire publishing arm of the Christian Industrial Complex (I believe my friend Shane Claiborne coined that term) has a great deal of material that is just for you!

Digital Prayers of the People

"Tree of Prayer" image via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4404284129

"Tree of Prayer" image via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4404284129

I know that for people of all faiths prayer is an incredibly important part of life, not only for one’s own sense of connecting to God, but also in order to stay connected to the people around them. As social media gets further embedded in our everyday lives, this sense of who is “around” us is changing, offering an opportunity to expand our understanding and experience of community. Prayer has always been a means to cross-over bounds of geography, personal experience and other divisions in order to lift up a common hope that God’s love, hope, peace and joy will be made known and Social Media, when used well, can be a powerful means of further crossing those bounds.

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