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It Distorts Reality

Matthew Lee Anderson is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (Bethany House) and blogs at MereOrthodoxy.com.

The benefits of social networking are many but require judicious and responsible use to be enjoyed. When done well, social networking can enhance the fellowship of the church by providing congregants a window into each other's lives. It can mobilize congregants to serve their neighbors and enhance the church's mission by embedding the community of church relationships in the broader community.

But social media can merely offer a short-term, technological solution to deeper, more fundamental problems. Social networking can give the appearance of intimacy and community without enabling the substance of embodied friendship.

The more we wed ourselves to social networking as a strategy for building community, the more we risk forgetting that the problems in our communities do not hinge upon lack of access to shared information about each other's lives. They result from our own reluctance to share space and meals together, and to enter into environments and social situations that require our embodied presence. The comforting arm around a shoulder that comes when we "weep with those who weep" will never have an equal virtual substitute.

In that sense, while not immediately harmful to fellowship, we should ask whether social media undermine our intuitions about what is distinctive and unique about the gathered, embodied fellowship of the people of God.

This is especially true now that social networking is increasingly video-centric. Video social networking seems to make online sharing more like embodied presence. This makes it more difficult ...

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December 2011

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