Social Media: Living a Virtually Real Life

“Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.” ― Jeremy Glass

Is social media “real life”? When we post photos of our kids playing the snow—is that real life? When we follow the Oscars via Twitter—is that real life? When we engage in heated discussions about politics on Facebook—is that real life? This was the topic at a couple of Pub Theology gatherings I attended this past week.

IMG_20150224_162938Some say that technology, and in particular, smartphones and iPads, are interrupting and interfering with our lives. We’re never really “there” because any beep or haptic pulse sends us running to “see” what’s happening. Is someone responding to my amazingly clever tweet about Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink dress? Is my latest blog post trending? How many shares did that meme about Kanye and Beck get?

Jeremy Glass concludes that such technology is, in fact, getting in the way of us living our lives:

“We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.”

Part of me agrees. I know that I generally have my phone on me. I often think: “Should I snap a photo of this?” “Would this make a great Instagram image?” “Am I missing out on something on Twitter right now?” or even: “I should check my email, because someone might be trying to get in touch.” It can be hard to set the technology aside and be present in the moment. I have to be intentional to realize that when I am seeking to engage someone, I need to focus on them: look them in the eyes, really listen, be present. Technology, in that moment, becomes secondary.

IMG_20150226_084618And yet, technology has opened up communication in terrific ways. At our Pub Theology gathering at Saugatuck Brewing this week, someone joined us from England via Skype. Rob Wylie leads a group called: Sunday@thepub at various venues around Newcastle upon Tyne. I have to say I had my doubts about how this was going to go. We set up a Macbook Air at the end of the table, had a Yeti microphone in the middle of our group so that he could hear each of us—and it was amazing. It was like he was right in the circle with us. Of course, he missed out on some of the great brews that were on tap on our end, but that aside—he brought a real presence to the table, and a perspective from another part of the world that was a valuable part of the conversation.

Rob noted that in addition to leading a live gathering at pubs in the UK, he also leads a community in an online setting. He noted that there are advantages to that setting as well. “Some people are more comfortable expressing themselves in written form. They have time to think carefully about what they are trying to say, they can edit it, and they can also take the time to read and understand what someone else is saying. For more introverted sorts, this kind of online community is very important—and very real.”

For people who are in their mid-thirties and below, they have virtually (no pun intended) been born into this technology. They are in a very real sense “digital natives.”

Jes Kast-Keat, a Reformed minister in Manhattan, puts it this way:

“Meeting someone online is just as much real life as meeting someone in person is. Twitter is real life. Facebook is real life. Instagram is real life. You need to stop saying: “You use Twitter/SnapChat/Facebook too much.” Nope, you don’t get it. Being a digital native means these are our hangouts. These are the spaces we live in.”

Fittingly enough, I first met Jes online via Twitter. She, along with a couple of others I had met on Twitter, were visiting DC from NYC, and we decided to have a “tweetup.” So we gathered at a happening spot in Adams Morgan, ordered a few pints, and had a great time furthering the very real connection that had begun online. Now that we have met in person, it certainly supplements the online relationship—but it was a decidedly real connection even before that.

I would guess that nearly all of you reading this have online friends that you have never met in person. Yet those connections are real, and those people have brought something to your life that wasn’t there before.

Back to our opening question: Is social media real life? Yes. Can it interrupt our lives? Yes. Are we better off for it? I think so, as long as we integrate it in a way that brings goodness and flourishing to our lives, and can maintain a real presence to the people that we are with—whether in person, or whether on Facebook.

What do you think? Tell us your story of social media’s impact on your life, or what it’s like to be a digital native—or nonnative.

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3 thoughts on “Social Media: Living a Virtually Real Life

  1. I sometimes wonder if my reaction to instabookface is akin to an old lady 100 years ago who thinks the arrival of the telephone is nothing but a nuisance. “Why don’t you go and see the person?” She says, “Why don’t you talk face to face? All this new fangled nonsense. Ridiculous. It’ll never catch on.”

    It’s not my business what adults do via social media, but there are certain negative behaviours that can be magnified by social media in a way they weren’t before its arrival, and children and young people are the most vulnerable. My 9-year-old says that other kids in her class are on facebook, even though it’s not supposed to be for under 13s. Then there’s ‘sexting’ between kids, whether invited or not… It’s the lack of accountable parenting that is scary. Kids can so easily be exposed to images and situations that are damaging (adults can too, but that’s slightly different).

    Nonetheless I love the internet. I use it every day. My husband earns a living using the internet and holds conference calls with people on the other side of the world as he trains them! I just think we need to be more actively aware of the negative features.

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  2. Of course, social media is “real life,” just as talking on the phone, or driving a car, or having a sleepless night is real life. What we do is what we do, whether we want to or not. The question is really one of quality and choice. Are you doing what you really love to do? Have you chosen it? A sleepless light is a low quality event that you don’t choose that is real life. A timely tweet that scores a smile when you want a smile is quality. But the truth is, much of our use of social media is actually distracted living, and we’re rarely in as much control of our social media use as we should be. I blog about this–as it relates to our brains and how they’re structured–at: http://tinyurl.com/mfv7h3n

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