Facebook, Friction & Growth

The appeal of digital fellowship often arises from the lack of friction, either keeping people together or holding them at a remove from each other…However, by holding me in relation with people who are unlike me and often opposed to me, the friction of materiality forces me to grow in healthy ways that I might not otherwise choose.       -Alasdair Roberts

Has this happened to you? 

You log-off Facebook to re-enter the “real world.” That’s where you brush real shoulders and shake real hands and listen to real folks talk. And where you might deflate a bit and be brought back to size. Smaller, most likely.

Odds are, if you have a strong social media presence-or wish you did– it’s happened to you. Maybe you felt it as you sat at a meeting or when you walked into church or sipped coffee with off-the-FB-grid friends. WhooooshThere you are, feeling shrunken, unnoticed, and undervalued. As in, These people have no idea who I really am. If they only knew about that last 50-like post. (Blush.)
Tony Reinke knows us, and he’s at it again-stirring us Christians up and forcing us to think deeply about the our use of social media. Tony’s whole article-his interview with British tech thinker and author, Alasdair Roberts- is well worth the 15 minutes it will take you to read. (Longer to digest.) 

But if time’s tight, here’s a 2 minute taste. Italics are mine.
[S]peak to the person who has a strong presence in social media, and they show up to church on Sunday where they feel undervalued, misunderstood, and unappreciated. What advice do you have for them to know that, yes, they are likely exactly where God wants them to be? 

I have been struck by how distorted an impression of social reality online media can give. The sharp sense of dissonance between our “strong presence” in social media and our seeming lack of “presence” in the Sunday morning meeting can be illuminating of this. When we experience this sense, it is perhaps a sign of our excessive self-regard that our first thoughts run to our supposed right to be more appreciated, rather than to the fact that so many of the people we worship with in our churches have little or no presence in our privileged and exclusive circles on social media. 

Our online contexts are dominated by relatively affluent, cosmopolitan, Western, highly educated, literate and articulate, young, middle-class persons. Children, the elderly, the poor, those with less education or lower levels of literacy, and persons from less cosmopolitan and non-Western contexts are largely invisible. That is, the majority of the human race.

How do you break free from the constant lure of online likemindedness in order to jump into the awkwardnesses of embodiment? What do you tell yourself?   

In resisting the lure of online likemindedness I have been spurred by a recognition that homogeneous communities tend to have exaggerated blindspots and unaddressed weaknesses. Exposure to the challenge of people who perceive, experience, inhabit, and understand the world differently is a necessary spur to growth. To the extent that online communities are homogeneous or homogenizing, it robs us of this. 

I have also come to appreciate that the problem isn’t solely with the “likeness” dimension of likemindedness, but also with the “mindedness.” Social media is an abstract realm that consistently privileges the mind over the body. However, the Christian faith has always been grounded in the life of the body. As Christians we don’t just share beliefs, open up about our feelings, and give opinions: We share meals and open our houses to others; we give to those in need, we meet together, and are physically present to each other. A “community” that lacks these elements is hardly worthy to be called a community at all.

To any of us who would bask in the glow of our social media presence, Roberts says, Embodiment is better. Carefully worded posts and posed pictures don’t often frustrate or rub us wrong. Which means they don’t help as much to grow us up into Christ. 

Presence among iron-sharpening, sometimes wrong-rubbing people can grow us in godliness more than our presence in a homogeneous happy-happy, like-like Facebook community. Which isn’t to say we forsake Facebook.* It is to say, however, that we don’t forsake physical assembling of ourselves together.

Physically present love grounds the life of the body

Follow the way of love. Love. Beyond word or tongue or comment or post. To action and truth. Frets and rubs– a bit of friction-help us grow in love. Let us not love in word or tongue but in action and in truth

Duly convicted, I’m, um, posting now and dashing off to bed. I want to be ready for morning. I want to welcome the warmth and growth that flesh-and-blood friction bring. I want to be ready for church. 

There, Lord willing, I’ll bring my embodied, none-too-smooth self and worship the Lord. A body that builds itself up in love

In friction-making, growth-stirring flesh-and-blood love. 
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

*This is not to say we can’t express love and build the Body online, by being present in social media. More on that in an upcoming post. 

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