Does Facebook Enhance or Undermine Friendship?

Mark Beuving —  January 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

Jim Book FaceHow many friends do you have?

When you hear a question like that, what comes to your mind? Do you start thinking through the number of people you hang out with on a regular basis? Do you think back to high school or college? Or do you open up your Facebook app and deliver a precise figure?

It’s not too much to say that Facebook has had a big impact on our concept of friendship. And for most of us, Facebook has had a big impact on our friendships themselves. The question is whether this impact on how we think about friendship and how we maintain our friendships is positive or negative. My perception is that opinions will be pretty divided on this one.

Many would say that Facebook undermines friendships. It destroys the meaning of the word “friend.” If I spent one evening hanging out with you as a friend of a friend two years ago, are you really my friend? Facebook says yes. If I choose to keep your photos and “status updates” from showing up in my “news feed,” in what sense are we actually friends?

Facebook FriendsSo maybe Facebook works against friendship. Maybe it offers us a cheap substitute for friendship. I don’t have to put any effort into my Facebook friendships. Your photos are there when I want to look at them, but I can’t offend you by not being interested in your recent vacation, and you don’t even know when I’ve taken you out of my news feed for sharing too many political opinions. How is that friendship?

But then again, I’m convinced that Facebook does a lot for many of my friendships. A lot of people that I care deeply about would feel a lot more distant were it not for Facebook. When good friends of mine move to New York, I can still get a sense of what’s happening in their lives. I can see snapshots and video clips of their daughter growing up. I’m not seeing them face to face, but I can share in their joys and trials to some extent at least.

I’d say that many of my in-town friendships are enhanced in this way as well. We can share our pictures together, tell each other jokes even when we haven’t had time to meet up, and share interesting bits of the web with each other with unbelievable convenience.

Facebook Add FriendSo which is it? Are friendships being enhanced or undermined?

The correct answer is both. Or maybe either. Or it depends on the situation. Or—and this one will sound biblical—it depends on your heart in the matter. If I want to be a creeper and live vicariously through the people I would otherwise have limited access to, Facebook will allow me to do that. If I want to stay in the loop with the people I genuinely love, Facebook will allow me to do that.

In reality, Facebook doesn’t make or break friendships. People do that. Facebook can’t keep a running total on true friendship. Our virtual friendship status may remain intact even as my selfish behavior hurts you deeply and challenges every meaningful definition of friendship. Being a true friend requires more than a mouse click. It requires love. And love can be shown in person, over the world wide interwebs, and even in the spiritual realm as a prayer goes up for a friend we haven’t seen in years.

The key is to be a good friend, whatever the context. Social media ebbs and flows; apps and platforms come and go. But love never fails.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Mark Beuving

Posts Twitter Facebook

Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.
  • Pingback: Social Media Doesn’t Ruin Lives | Theology for Real Life()

  • thr

    and… hmm… i may have answered some of my own questions when i reread what i sent. but anyway, i’d like a response just to hear one. :)

    • MarkBeuving

      Nice, Torri.

      Great thoughts. It’s interesting to hear about Facebook from the perspective of someone who’s been outside of the country for a while. I’m glad it has value there as well.

      And I think you’ve hit on an important point when it comes to social media substituting for real relationships. If we don’t have to ask, maybe we’re missing out on something. But then again, we’re not asking because we already know, so maybe not? I don’t know.

      And I like your thought on Instagram. My initial thought would be that (some) people use Instagram to share their lives in little artistic chunks. So you’re still getting someone’s life, but literal snapshots of it, made to look a little more artsy than real life is. I think there’s value in that. So again, it probably just comes back to how you use it.

      But that shouldn’t be the final word.

  • thr

    Nice. Well-played. I for one continuously wish to rid myself of facebook forever, and if it weren’t for the important people in my life who live on the opposite side of the world I’d get out of that world in an instant. I do, however, have friends – real, deeply-loved friends – on the opposite side of the world, and for that reason I am INCREDIBLY thankful for facebook. Relationships I’d easily have lost in the year between when I first went to Indonesia and when I went back were actually maintained and even strengthened in the year I was absent – what’s more, I was ready and able to reenter a community with the feeling I was actually reentering (as opposed to feeling like I’d walked back to the starting point and had to begin all over again). You win some, you lose some… but overall, I’m grateful for the effect facebook has had on my (already established, significant, drawn-out) friendships.

    Here’s a question though. Just something I’ve thought a bit about here and there.

    Instagram.

    Instagram isn’t good for much as regards interpersonal communication. I suppose we’re communicating with our pictures, but it’s not communication that’s meant to be engaged too far beyond a like or a brief comment.

    I realize I may sound obnoxious right now. Bear with me.

    I’m just curious about the effect other social networking devices (perhaps the less “personal” ones) are having on our relationships. I for one have caught myself not bothering to ask an old friend how or what she’s doing because I already know where she is and with who just by watching what she posts on Instagram. I like facebook because it’s – at least, I think it ought to be – a two-way street. But Instagram? Seems like faux-sociability to me.

    Sorry. Long-winded and annoying. Any thoughts?

    (oh… this is torri.)