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Sunday Sessions: Technology & Community

UPDATE: Shauna wrote an amazing follow-up to her Relevant article on her blog. Read it here >>

I recently read an amazing article on Relevant by Shauna Niequist called Stop Instagramming Your Perfect Life, and it really got me thinking: Is technology the enemy of true community? Or can it be another tool for building (real) friendship from afar?

I completely agree with Shauna that life’s greatest moments often happen in person—around a dinner table, in the delivery room when you bring a child into the world, over coffee at the kitchen table—and something I’d like to add to what she presented in the article is that “real” community isn’t limited to being with someone in person.

I have made several friends thanks to social media and the blogging world—Bonnie, Madison, Elizabeth and Anne, to name a few. Though I often joke about it, I can honestly say that the Internet is my thing—my power zone of sorts. My whole life is tied to the world wide web—my job for Darling is 100% about connecting with women worldwide and building online community; and obviously if you’re reading this you know that I’m a blogger, which is also a very web-based passion of mine. Since I work from home, I don’t interact with many people during the week. But I rarely feel lonely these days, because I’ve developed real community through social media. That sounds so lame, I’m sure, but it’s the honest truth.

Beyond befriending strangers, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have all served unique purposes in keeping me close with friends when we’re not actually together. On Facebook, I love to engage in conversation with friends when they share articles that inspired them, or a photo from their vacation to the lake. On Instagram, it delights me to see the view my friend sees at the top of her hike on Saturday morning, or even to get a peek at that amazing lunch she had at that new restaurant in town. On Pinterest, I share a secret board with one of my best friends (who is totally not tech-savvy, by the way), and it’s such a fun way for us to feel connected when we’re not actually able to hang out.

In my life, technology is a blessing. It’s a way that I peek into the beautiful moments in loved ones’ lives; the way I see weekly photos of my nieces and nephew who live in Ohio; the way I share the silly and the serious in a way that invites people to discuss. Technology and social media help me stay connected when I can’t hop on a plane to visit, when I’m too sick to invite people over, or simply want to share a tid bit of my life with others. After all, if “happiness is only real when shared” (Into The Wild), is it so wrong that we care to share special moments online? Does something you share through social media have less value because of the medium on which it was shared?

I hear a lot about how technology incites comparison, and that’s something addressed in the article…

“It makes sense, then, that anyone else’s fun or beauty or sparkle gets under our skin. It magnifies our own dissatisfaction with that moment. When you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, the majority of your friends probably aren’t doing anything any more special. But it only takes one friend at the Eiffel Tower to make you feel like a loser.”

Comparison is very real, but I don’t think our friends having awesome lives is the problem—we are the problem. Comparison and envy are heart conditions, and they won’t improve even if our friends start posting less fabulous photos. If we envy and compare online, we envy and compare in our face-to-face lives, period. Of course, if Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest are messing with your ability to connect in person with friends or causing you to envy, then I don’t think it’s wrong to step away from it. But I’d like to challenge all of us with something: rather than blame technology for the lack of real community in our lives, let’s address the heart condition going on (envy, lack of effort on our part, whatever is is), and let technology be something that bridges our community during the times we’re apart, rather than something that tears it down. I think that’s what Shauna was getting at when she wrote this part…

“For many of us, walking away from the Internet isn’t an option. But using it to connect instead of compare is an option, and a life-changing one. Using technology to build community instead of building carefully-curated images of ourselves is an option, and a worthwhile one.”

Real community can exist and be cultivated in many ways—in person, of course, but also through other means like social networks, text messages, video chats, etc. If we suspect that technology is the problem, we should first take a moment to examine our hearts, our intentions and our actions. As Shauna says in the article, “Let’s choose community. Let’s stop comparing. Let’s start connecting.” It’s totally okay if you want to do that on Instagram.

Agree or disagree?

P.S. It’s worth mentioning that sometimes people post things with the intention of getting attention, and to that I would just say this: don’t be that person. You can’t control how other people use social media, but you certainly can choose to use it in the right way yourself!

Image via The Container Store

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