Facebook, Airplanes, and the Fully Human Life

A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion with a friend—via Facebook message, of course—about the pros and cons of social media. We have all of the basic conservative, intellectually inclined, Christian, rooted-in-Western-civilization stuff in common, so in general the conversation proceeded along fairly predictable lines.

Social media are problematic because they tend to replace genuine human relationships, which grow out of common experiences and life lived together, with virtual ones, maintained through wall posts and status updates. On the other hand, networking websites like Facebook and Twitter can foster already existing relationships, helping friends and family separated by geography communicate with each other in real time. So social media can be helpful tools, but they need to be used properly; it’s okay to be friends with your mom on Facebook, but it’s not okay if that’s your only interaction with her, et cetera et cetera and so forth. It was an interesting intellectual exercise, but for the most part, we’ve heard this all before.

In the course of the conversation, however, my friend made an almost offhand observation that made me think about the whole problem in a new context.