Sunday, January 26, 2014

Maintaining Friendships in a Digital World: A Case for not Trying so Hard

High school friends who flew/drove to my wedding 
 I recently realized that I have over 800 friends on Facebook. In case you are wondering, yes, I do know all those people (or at least knew who they were when I accepted their friend request). And, yes, I do think I've become stretched too thin. 

I suspect some of you can relate.

There's a statistic going around that people can only mentally juggle a real-world social network of about 120 people.  Not sure how true it is, but it feels about right. There is also a bunch of talk about social media undermining the development and maintenance of real-world friendships. Some of my friends have deleted their accounts and claim to be leading much happier and healthier lives because of it. Of course, since we don't live in the same hemisphere, I can only take their word for it; we don't communicate frequently anymore. ...But is that such a bad thing? My mother has lived far away from her childhood best friend since before I was born. They've never called or written each other often, but they did used to send their kids Christmas presents, and each time they do meet-up they stay up late giggling like no time has passed. (and, yes, their friendship survives despite one of them still not using social media)

Back in my teens, a workshop speaker spouted out some friendship statistics. It was something like by the time we reach full adulthood we'd still be in touch with a couple high school friends and a few college friends--if even that. I grimly accepted this, having noticed that when I attended retreats where small groups tearfully promised to remain BFFs, the physical distance and hassle of letter writing quickly drifted us apart. Around the same age, I saw a My Three Sons episode called "A Perfect Memory."  In it, the widower father's high school sweetheart comes back to town and attempts a visit, but she finds him not at home. Before he reaches her, however, she makes a decision that confused me at the time; she's leaves, having decided instead to preserve the perfect memory from their youth.

Friends from AU undergrad at the wedding
Many of the wonderful folks I've met over the years I haven't seen since our last perfect encounter. Thanks to Facebook, though, I now can, in theory, not only stay in touch with all of them but know where they vacation, how their children are doing, and even what they made for dinner.

For awhile, I thought of my friends list as my online congregation and treated my newsfeed as the joys and concerns announcements. As my husband pointed out, "just checking Facebook" could take me hours. I realized not even pastors of brick and mortar congregations are expected to know this much about their congregants.  For that matter, to my knowledge in no point of history were even best friends expected to know so much about each other's daily activities.

All these thoughts are pointing me to one conclusion: I think I'll try not trying so hard and see what happens. Perhaps more interactions with friends I can invite over for game night?

Also--- Do you think the lyrics of the song Remember me this Way (yes, my choir sang it at high school graduation) make sense in the digital age?  Can a strong case still be make for saying goodbye to those still living?

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