The long wait is over. On Facebook, we are no longer limited to 'likes', but can now 'love', 'haha', 'wow', 'sad' and 'angry', whatever comes our way. Oh, what liberty! The success of the feature is debateable. As far as I can tell, 'likes' are still far and above the preferred reaction. But perhaps that is just a matter of time and getting used to a larger variety of options. Whatever the case, it is perhaps timely for us to consider again the place that social media platforms have in our lives, particularly when it comes to the building of relationships.
"All we wanted was a dislike button", some have said. I for one am glad that that's exactly what we didn't get. The online world is negative enough already. Facebook's approach with reactions, I think, is relatively helpful. It's not about casting judgment on something. And there's too much vagueness for a 'dislike' to be misunderstood anyway. Rather it's seeking to share how we feel a little more clearly. And all without breaking the mould of what make 'likes' interesting to begin with.
But clearer does not necessarily mean more substantial.
The risk of course is that we might feel this new semblance of precision as able substitute for a more concrete expression of our connections with each other. It is after all easier and more convenient for us to click that button. And in that action perhaps we feel like we have done our part to connect and care for the people that we are 'friends' with.
But really we all know that there is not really such a thing as efficiency in relationships. We all know that the 'reaction', the 'like', even the casual post on a person's wall, isn't sufficient to build or even maintain a meaningful relationship. What we need is real time, real effort, and real energy. What we all need is to be able to see and believe that those around us are willing and able to cast off their own conveniences in order to care for us.
Don't substitute your ability to live your empathetic frustration, love or concern out with the ability to indicate it on Facebook. Build relationships by being there for people, rather than suggesting relationship by simply indicating your agreement.
Perhaps this is partly why we are exhorted to physically meet together in Hebrews 10:24-25. The function of caring for each other and growing together as God's people can't be fully realised without actual time together. Most clear though is that this is what love and care for one another really looks like. Just as, in 1 John 3:16-18, we see that God's love in us is something that should not be limited to mere words, neither should our feelings towards the things going on in each other's lives be limited to our 'reactions'.
In some ways this is just another, "beware of the inadequacy of the internet in your relationships", kind of article. But don't be fooled into thinking that it isn't a real issue. While it is a useful tool, and in some circumstances the only one we have, it is also something that for various reasons has had the effect of making us feel distant from each other despite our constant connectivity. At best, it is something that adds value to our relationships. But at worst, it steals away the very thing that makes relationships great. And all while making us believe that there is nothing missing.
In the movie Wall-E, the human dependence on technology is caricatured as inevitably leading to a point of overwhelming obesity and utter incapacity. It is a caricature, but perhaps the risk is real, at least in the relational arena, when it comes to our unthinking appropriation of relationship by proxy. We don't need a middle man (i.e. the internet) to make connections with each other. It is something that is inbuilt and part of our very nature as people. Sometimes it is inconvenient, but perhaps that is the point. Over time that very inconvenience is what proves that it is of self-sacrificial love, and what makes it such a compelling and beautiful thing.
In our modern experience, the very nature of what it means to be connected has changed, and it leaves us wanting, craving even, for better and deeper relationships that we can see, and feel, and live out. I, like probably everyone reading this, have a large number of people categorised as 'friends' on Facebook. And I do genuinely think of them as friends. And yet they aren't in the same category of those friends that I see week to week, and talk to regularly. In and amongst the frantic pace of life, don't allow your friendships to be simplified by the convenience of the internet. Rather jump into the complicated and oftentimes inefficient act of meeting together. And it will bear fruit.
God's care and concern for us was not something they he simply indicated. It went much further than mere words. It was shown in the real life provision of his Son. We may have many different means of indicating our care for each other, but there is no substitute for the life of loving self sacrifice.