We all need to belong. From tweeting your latest accomplishment on Twitter to the local library’s book clubs, everyone wants to belong to something, somewhere.
We believe it will bring value to our lives and enrich it in such a way to make us better people. We learn this from the time we are young children, hanging onto the schoolyard fence in the hopes that maybe that popular group of people will look our way and invite us to join their intimate clique. We transform our inner and outward appearance so the people who are most worth our time deem us a valuable part of their community.
Then we become adults. We throw off the chains of high school life just to cross the threshold of adulthood. We believe now we can become the real us, and we won’t have to fake who we are in order to impress others around us.
Wrong. Adulthood forces us to address deeper questions regarding our identity:
What if I never become a successful person in society? What if I never get married? Is this all there is to life? What’s my purpose in life?
We all need (and want) to belong. It’s in our DNA. We can fool ourselves into thinking we can journey through life on our own. With the development and proliferation of technology, it’s possible to meet most basic needs right from the comfort of our own home.
However, the hole within our hearts goes much deeper than our basic needs. It is buried deep within us and lies at the very fiber of our being. Our need for human connection and contact can never be met in a solo effort. Our validation comes from others, and no matter how deep we try to bury it and strive to fill it with material possessions, wealth, and intelligence, the hole never completely fills.
So, we keep searching.
We search for that group of people who will encourage us in our journey through life. We want them to believe in us, accept us for who we are, and, in essence, validate us as human beings.
The Creation of the Pseudo Community
Facebook entered the cyber world as a college site in which students could connect with each other from various dorms, fraternities and sororities, and campuses. Quick on the heels of MySpace, it attracted the attention of the public with its private settings and simpler page design.
When Facebook became open to the general public in the middle of 2007, hundreds of thousands joined in the hopes of networking. It became a new way to connect. It became a pseudo-community, where people could become anyone they wanted to be, all within the safety and comfort of their living room couches. Facebook became the conduit to link people to their past—that person with whom they’d lost connection—and connected them to the people they are in the present.
Social media redefined what it meant to communicate. Soon it replaced phone calls and even e-mails. People were relaying their most private and important information in semi-public status updates on Facebook.
However, Facebook does much more than serve as a conduit for connection. It challenges the very nature of authenticity and identity. With the push of a button, I can transform myself into whoever I want to be. I can add or delete facts about myself, post inspirational quotes to my wall and collect friends like I collect postage stamps. I can transform myself into the very person I wished I were back in high school.
An article in The Atlantic called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” analyzes the notion that Facebook is increasing isolation and loneliness among users. Author Stephen Marche first explains the difference between being alone and loneliness. Many single people can experience contentment with their current life circumstances, yet people with families can feel alone.
In fact, Marche says Carnegie Mellon conducted a study in the late 1990s that showed Internet users already demonstrated increased loneliness. What separates these two ideas, according to Marche, is the quality of the interactions in one’s life. In other words, one can have many people one considers friends, but not have any confidants with which one can discuss deep personal matters. Facebook allows people to connect with friends, but users still lack the meaningful bond that results from intimate conversation and contact.
The article also reports Facebook creates an increased need for self-promotion and narcissism, and that those who post status updates, collect friends, and chat with friends actually report being less lonely. John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness, does not believe Facebook creates loneliness, but it can perpetuate it if abused.
“Facebook can be terrific, if we use it properly,” he wrote. “It’s like a car. You can drive it to pick up your friends. Or you can drive it alone. … How we use these technologies can lead to more integration, rather than more isolation.”
Marche concludes that Facebook itself doesn’t create loneliness; lonely users only use it as tool to connect with friends. Yet it does not create long-lasting connections as a whole. Marche said, “What Facebook has revealed about human nature – and this is not a minor revelation—is that connection is not the same as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better, or a more liberated version of humanity.”
Make no mistake. I am not advocating you don’t use Facebook. In fact, I believe it can be used as an invaluable resource to connect to people and things unattainable just a few short years ago.
However, we need group interaction now more than ever. One can enjoy a valuable (and therefore valued) life if one decides to make a difference in society. One cannot achieve this without interacting with others.
This is where the church comes in.
The more people engage in the pseudo community, the more isolated they feel. Their longing for authentic, personal connection increases. Small groups provide the gateway to meet that need for connection and community. A small group setting provides the intimate atmosphere in which people can express prayer requests and develop deep, long-lasting relationships with other believers. This is the prime environment for discipleship to take place.
As Christians, we need to use social media as a conduit for initial connection with both Christians and Non-Christians. Because social media may connect people to you, but that interaction might ultimately connect them to Christ.