Maybe a Different Kind of Diet is in Order

Think for a moment about the influence of technology and electronics upon our culture today. We have cell phones, laptop computers, iPods®, iPads®, e-books, GPS’s that talk to us, and handheld game systems. The ability to remain connected is what drives much of the technology industry today. Between text-messages, email, Twitter®, Facebook®, and blogs (web logs), it is possible for us to carry on conversations and conduct business for days without hearing the voice of another person. I have previously discussed how tragic I think this is.

As the parent of a teenager, I have seen this “technology overload” first hand. I must also say in all honesty that I am guilty of contributing to it. Children and teens today have a desire to stay connected to each other and know what is going on with each other at all times. To them, this is more than a desire, it is a need. I wonder how this steady diet of digital communication affects, or takes away from, other daily activities? I wonder how much face-time our children and teens trade off for screen-time? There is now a way to find out.

I was recently introduced to an organization called iShine. This organization is known for bringing family-friendly media options through television, music, and radio. iShine has recently developed and released a new online tool they call the Family Media Diet Calculator. The purpose of this tool is to provide a customized awareness to families in regards to various forms of media in comparison to how much time they spend plugged into real-life activity (reading, talking with friends, church services, etc). I really like the idea of this. Awareness is important because necessary and healthy changes can’t be made until there is a realization that things may be out of balance. From their press release:

“Parents nationwide will be able to plug in amounts of time their families spend texting, browsing online, consuming television and more. They will then be able to print a free custom analysis of where their families are spending their time in comparison to their involvement in recreational and faith-based activities along with family time and reading.  The campaign is not an anti-technology movement.  It is about use awareness and being intentional about the content.”

I do not endorse or recommend much. However, I believe this could be a valuable tool (absolutely free) for families to use in order to help made informed decisions as it relates to the media.

Is Social Networking Eroding the Fabric of Genuine Authentic Friendships?

Aristotle once said, “the desire for friendship comes quickly; friendship does not”. Deep down inside each of us is the desire to share our lives with others. There is a desire for intimacy. There is a desire for each of us to have people in our lives with whom we connect on a deeper level. There is a desire to be part of a community that share the same beliefs, values, and interests that we do. Building healthy and meaningful friendships requires work. They do not just “happen”. What we must do is decide if the effort and work are worth it. We must determine how deep we want our friendships to go and how much they will impact our lives. When I talk about effort and work, I am not saying that making friends and building lasting friendships is a job. I am saying that it requires giving up time in our already busy lives to the pursuit of friendship.

We structure ourselves right out of the opportunity to build friendships. We learn to make friends at an early age. Remember as a child there were times of just “hanging out” together. Kids would spend the night at each other’s homes where they would get to know the family and the family would know who their children were spending time with. Times of tree houses, sandlot football, bicycle riding, fishing, and camping were not just ways to pass the time, but were avenues to strengthening and deepening friendships (we just thought it was fun). We don’t see too much of this anymore. Enter social media.

Social media has taken the world by storm. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs (web logs), and other sites are growing in popularity around the world and among all ages. The very essence of these social networking sites is that of friendship and connection. They offer an avenue of keeping up with established friendships and for the establishment of new ones. These sites allow for the constant and immediate answer to the question, “where are you and what are you doing?” Having “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter assist in connection. The only question that has to be answered is this one: Are these social networking sites capable of reproducing authentic and genuine friendships in the lives of people? I would have to say no.

Aristotle also said, “close friends share salt together”. I believe there is a great deal of truth and logic in that statement. Close friends share meals together. They sit across from each other and share time, struggles, victories, tears, family, hurts, and laughs together. Close friends share time together. I am not saying that social networking sites are bad. I am not saying that they do have a purpose. I blog, use Facebook and Twitter too. To answer the question asked in my title, “Is social networking eroding the fabric of genuine authentic friendships?” my answer is yes. Social networking sites promote social connectivity. This is not the same as intimate friendships. I see this erosion, or the slow wearing away of authentic friendships, taking place when the preference becomes a computer screen instead of a face-to-face meeting. This erosion can be seen when we would rather engage in online chatting instead of in-person communication. Although we hail the progress of technology today, and there have been some good advancements, I believe that our making it possible to communicate and never have to sit down face-to-face separates us as people. Instead of saying, “Let’s get together for lunch and talk”, we say “I’ll email you”. Instead of picking up the phone and phone and talking to someone, we text them. If we are not careful, we will forget how to relate to people all together.

Again let me say that I am not against social networking, or technology for that matter. I just believe strongly in the value of personal communication. Let me close by giving you a few questions for thought.

1. Is the quantity of your friendships on social networking sites more important that the quality of those same friendships?

2. Do you spend as much time and effort in face-to-face relationships as you do in “finding friends” online?

3. How many of your friends on social networking sites have you sat down with face-to-face for at least 30 minutes in the past six months?