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After publishing the post Online Friendships: Real or Illusion? last week, several of you posted examples of meaningful relationships that developed through social media. Those stories plus other comments prompted some new thoughts on this topic I’d like to share with you…
1) Status updates are shallow. The basic function of nearly every social network is the public “status update.” If my only interaction with a person is broadcasting my status updates to everyone and reading the status updates that person has broadcast to everyone, there is virtually no relationship there. All we really have is some very superficial information about each other.
2) The real power of social media is in the personal interaction. Status updates have very little relational value in and of themselves, but they often serve as the springboard toward personal interaction – a comment, a discussion back and forth, a private message, an offer to help, an invitation to meet offline. This is how meaningful relationships form – when we listen to others and respond by offering a part of ourselves. In every example of a meaningful relationship that developed from social media which people shared in comments, someone took the initiative to personally engage with the other person.
3) Relational depth spans a continuum. Most people fortunate if they have even a handful of “3 AM friends,” that is a friend you could call any time day or night for help. But that doesn’t make the relationships we have with everyone else meaningless. Our lives are full of extended family, co-workers, neighbors, people we worship with at church, and people we serve with in various organizations who span the continuum between “good friend” and “that neighbor from down the street who I always see walking his dog.”
4) Online relational depth spans a continuum too. Social media certainly gives us the opportunity to connect with many more people than ever before. Obviously, I have no relationship at all with the vast majority of the 60,000 people who follow me on Twitter. And even most of my Facebook “friends” are probably better described as acquaintances, but there is no neat little dividing line between friend and acquaintance, only shades of depth and engagement.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that…
5) It’s the engagement not the medium that determines the depth of a relationship.
If we’re honest about it, aren’t most of our offline “friends” also acquaintances – neighbors, co-workers, church members, etc – with whom we occasionally exchange impersonal status updates?
It’s those people – both offline and online – with whom we are intentional about listening to, responding to, reaching out to and helping who are our friends.