“He totally sub-tweeted my Tweet on Twitter. How passive-aggressive is that? I’m definitely going to block him and change my relationship status just to make him jealous.”
The conversation I was having with this young 25-year-old woman a few weeks ago went something like that.
As we were talking, I realized that a majority of the keywords she was using to describe this dramatic interaction are words that didn’t exist in regular conversation 10 years ago. If I could have somehow recorded this conversation and played it to myself back in 2003, I would have had no idea what in the world it all meant.
There’s no denying it, the rise of social media has left a significant fingerprint on our society at large—from starting revolutions to triggering riots to pushing for reform. But more than anything else, it has left its mark on our relationships.
For some people, social media is the main avenue of connecting with the world around them—like the couple from Turkey, who decided to go as far as exchanging their wedding vows via Twitter. For others, it’s just a small part of their lives, bridging the gap of communication with friends. But no matter how involved a person may be in the world of online, one thing is for sure: Social media carries the potential of impacting our relational etiquette in pretty significant ways.
After my conversation with this young woman, I began contemplating the effects social media has had on my own personal life and relationships. Though I’ve benefited greatly from the ability to instantly share my life with the world around me, I came to realize that I’ve also lost some things in the process. No matter how shallow or deep you may be in the pool of social media, here are some things to consider with regard to the potential impacts it may have on real life interactions:
We can lose our warmth
There is something powerful about the tangible connection of one human being to another. I was doing some shopping with my two little children just last week, when a sweet elderly woman looked over at us, smiled and winked. As tiny as that gesture may have been, there was something about it that was so real. Her smile connected us to her heart.
No matter how we try to replicate it, there is nothing more powerful than real life connections. Sometimes, we just need someone with skin to give us a smile, wrap their arms around us or hold our hand in theirs.
In real life, we are forced to practice the skills of real human contact—from the influence of eye contact to the tenderness of a human embrace. Real life interactions have the potential of exuding a powerful warmth that is easy to forget when hiding behind the walls of the online world.
Jesus Himself remembered the significance of this warmth as He touched the lepers, looked into the eyes of sinners and embraced His friends. He connected with people in a real way, and He calls us to replicate His warmth as we engage the world around us. May we not get so caught up in the digital that we forget the power of the physical.
We can become self-focused
They say junior high is the primary age of engaging in self-centered behaviors. I refer to this as the “spotlight” stage, in which an adolescent lives life with the assumption they are the center of attention and all eyes are on them.
This magnetized way of thinking can be harmful in the long run, because when the spotlight is on you, everything becomes an ordeal. It’s no wonder the early teens can be one of the most miserably dramatic stages in a person’s life.
The good news is all of us eventually outgrow the spotlight mentality. But the bad news is social media seems to be ushering us back into the world of self-centeredness.
Within the realm of social media, it is the norm to live with the spotlight mentality. We are encouraged to share, tweet and update every thought, feeling and move.
But how does this translate over into real relationships? Imagine a person walking around just yelling out their every thought, feeling and action in real time. Within the context of actual life, this sounds so strange, yet this is what we are encouraged to do every day online.
We enter into a state of self-absorption in which we are more interested in proclaiming to the world who we are and what we are doing rather than taking the time to get to know and engage the world around us. So used to promoting ourselves, we forget to edify, encourage and focus on others. So used to looking inward, we begin to lose our desire to look out, to ask questions and to put the other person first.
Philippians 2 challenges us to live a life that says “no” to vanity and conceit and, instead, to humbly consider others as more important than ourselves. Jesus, who was by far the best example of relational etiquette, lived a life that put others first. I wonder how His example might affect the way we do social media?
We can lose our inhibition
Here’s the thing about real-life, face-to-face relationships—they come with a filter! Granted, we all know that one person who says whatever comes to their mind no matter the cost, but for the most part we are all equipped with the ability to discern when to speak up and when to refrain. It’s a part of us that is grounded in the truth that some things are just better left unsaid.
But you may have noticed that something seems to happen to our inhibition when we are masked behind the guise of a computer screen. Stepping into this virtual world, we find we feel empowered and in control. Slowly, we let our walls down.
Sometimes, this lack of inhibition motivates us to say and do things in the online world that we would never say or do in real life. In the end, our online actions can have real life consequences by tarnishing our reputation, ruining our friendships or isolating us from people we could have otherwise connected with.
It’s important to recognize the impact social media can have on our real life relationships and challenge ourselves to interact with grace, wisdom, kindness and humility, whether online or off.
The world of social media has an important role in our society and personal relationships. It has the power to bring conflict and conceit or the opportunity for connection and collaboration. May we be challenged to use it in ways that reflect the heart of Jesus rather than simply to promote ourselves. May we, in all things, learn to proclaim, “less of me … and more of Him” (John 3:30).
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.