By Jason Thacker
Social media and technology companies make countless promises every day that seem too good to be true. These promises include staying connected with loved ones, forging and maintaining friendships across long distances, or even the possibility of finding true love online. So much of our social internet is dependent on these promises of deeper and richer community, even as these same platforms and devices tend to isolate us from one another and sew division in our communities. While these issues face us all, there is an entire generation growing up in this digital society without any memory of a time before these revolutionary social connections. All of this is contained in a sleek smartphone that fits in the palm of your hand and disciples you to think friendships are all about you and your needs.
One of the main ways we can learn to see through these lofty promises of the social internet and champion real life friendships in this digital age is to remember that those we interact with online are not simply avatars but are real life people just like you and me. It is easy to assume that a “friend,” “follower,” or “connection” online is synonymous with a true friend or companion. We all are tempted to buy into the lie that true community and real friendships can be formed at a distance through the medium of a small piece of glass and some emojis. We instinctively know this isn’t actually true but are often tempted to think prioritizing these online connections over flesh and blood relationships will give us the things we long for such as community, companionship, and fulfilment. Technology helps drive so much of the individualism and false notions of moral autonomy that plague our communities today.
The irony of this age of social internet is that the connections we make online in hopes of forming and deepening friendships can have the chilling and opposite effect on our ability to connect with others in real life. The social internet is designed around posting at just the right time in just the right way, often with just the right reaction or animated gif. But real-life friendships are messy and often do not meet the desires for instant gratification we’ve grown accustomed to on social media.
The Bible reminds us through countless examples such as the relationships between King David and the prophet Nathan that friendships are not about meeting your needs per se but putting the needs of another before yourself (2 Sam. 12). Often true friendship means enduring the awkward and difficult conversations, telling each other hard things, and being physically present with one another in the times of life that aren’t Instagram or TikTok worthy. Real friendships aren’t all about you or portraying yourself in a certain way to others. Real friendships reflect the ways God cares for and loves as those created in His image (Gen. 1:26-28).
Real friendships are complex, dealing with conflicts and misunderstandings, and forged over the long haul. But friendships refined in this way are more resilient than a “like” online and are designed to form you into a person of virtue and ultimately a friend that reflects the goodness of our God in someone else’s life. Online connections can be good, but true friendships will always outlast the likes, shares, and heart emojis.