Social Media and the Death of Authentic Friendship

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Once upon a time, I was a young(er) mom, just starting to stay at home with my 2-under-2 kids after having worked full-time for a while. I was in the same situation so many new moms face in this modern age of opportunity: I was lonely.

I didn't know where to go to meet other moms like me. I didn't know how to get a feel for whether other moms actually were like me. Having made friends with lots of wonderful people whose worldviews completely opposed mine in college, I just wanted some fairly crunchy, Catholic, stay-at-home moms with whom I could talk about cloth diapers and breastfeeding!

I found a decent amount of that (minus the Catholic part) in our local La Leche League group, although I still felt like a bit of an outlier... Where could I find moms just like me?

Enter Facebook. "Groups" were just getting to be a more popular venue, and the curated news feed was beginning to be a possibility. If someone started posting things with which I disagreed, I could hide them from my news feed or even unfriend them! (I do highly recommend unfollowing as an option in many cases, but that's not my point here.) In no time at all, I'd created my own virtual echo chamber, and it was GREAT!

It was also horrible.





There was nobody to challenge my opinion on any matter. There was no reason to think before posting a strong view, because I knew nobody from the "list" I allowed those particular status updates to be shared with would disagree with me or start a debate. There was nothing but sanctimonious, know-it-all me, sharing my thoughts and opinions with the tiny circle of people I knew wouldn't challenge me. And I guarantee I'm not the only one who's created this sort of virtual bubble.

But what happens when we allow this sort of situation to arise, or when we create it for ourselves? Several things:

- More strongly polarized views; an us vs. them mentality,

- A lack of empathy for any opposing viewpoints, including a refusal to even entertain the thought that opposing arguments might have merit, and

- A complete death of authentic friendship, since we've created our homogeneous circle and refused to allow anyone in who can't check all our "ideal friendship" boxes.

Around this same time, I began blogging in order to share funny kid stories with my family. I eventually found out that I wasn't the only Catholic mom out there sharing these stories, and I eagerly sought out other moms like me! My tidy little bubble was about to expand!

Well.

Expand it did. But in a far better way that I might have predicted.

I found other working moms like me (at this point I had gone back to work again, and there's a nice long story about that if you're in for a novel). I found crunchy, cloth diapering moms like me. I found twin moms like me. I found moms who loved Gregorian chant and moms whose husbands were lawyers and moms with a bunch of little kids.

AND.

I found a whole lot of other moms who were not exactly like me.

Moms who formula fed, moms who struggled with infertility, moms who were the primary breadwinners, moms with whom I had a whole host of differences, and moms who were still awesome people, worthy of friendship, worthy of my time, worthy of my attention because they were also human persons.

My echo chamber was shattered. My bubble had burst. And my world was opened up to an entirely new level of authentic friendship that wasn't limited to people with whom I agreed on every topic on my "friendship bucket list."

Granted, we still had a heck of a lot in common... But I started to force myself to read more into the opposing viewpoints my friends (old and new) shared. To educate myself on both sides of a polarizing issue. To recognize that there are a whole lot of decisions in life that don't have one right answer. It was easy before to rattle off a long Facebook status lambasting the "other" side, the side that was faceless in my mind. It was a heck of a lot harder now that I had faces and friendships to go with those opposing views.

But here's the thing - our hearts shouldn't be inspired towards charity solely because we personally know someone who might be hurt by our words. Our hearts should be inspired towards charity in all things and at all times. Does this mean that sometimes we'll just stay silent? Yes. And a little introspection never hurt anyone.

Pope Benedict said,
"There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends of the earth." (May 2013)
Are we truly using our digital presence to make known that love?

Social media can be a powerful force for community, education, and unity. But it can also be a more powerful force for sowing seeds of division, and can be the death of authentic friendship if we let it be.

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