Virtual Friendships

In the last 10 months my friendships have been sustained through the life support of modern technology. Apps and programs such as Voxer, WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime, Instagram, Pinterest, old-fashioned e-mail and Facebook Messenger have become their primary fuel. There is reason to rejoice in this – we live in a day and age where you don’t have to rely on the postal service to deliver a letter anymore when communication is instantaneous. The costs of long-distance phone calls are not as much of a concern as they once were. I will admit, however, that there’s nothing better than a hand-written letter from a loved one across an ocean. But is this instantaneous technology really an asset to our relationships?

I’m grateful and thoroughly encouraged to see the love of friends and family who have maintained our relationships with an ocean separating us. I eagerly turn on my computer and phone every morning looking for a connection and am rarely disappointed. I feel like Jodi Foster sitting at her computer tuning in for extra terrestrials in the 1997 film Contact – is there life out there?! The answer is always a resounding, YES.

After 10 months of this, however, I will say I have become acutely aware of the irreplaceable value, the need, of physical interaction. Skype and FaceTime are wonderful… but there’s nothing like being able to sit across from someone at the same coffee table, at the same coffee shop, in the same city, and all of your senses are in tune with theirs. Being able to pick up on subtle non-verbal cues is difficult through a computer screen, but it can be the key to providing empathy and asking the right questions that can strongly influence the direction and quality of a conversation. Thus, deepening the friendship.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian (1967), author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on communication and found that 93% of a conversation is NON-verbal. 7% consists of the actual words being said, 38% is vocal, which includes tone, pitch and pace, and 55% is visual. This comprises of facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. With these kinds of statistics it’s no wonder we so often misunderstand and so poorly interpret text messages, e-mails and Facebook Messages! Voxer is a step up from written communication because it adds another 38% chance of understanding the message, but that’s still LESS THAN HALF of the whole message! Video chats are, therefore, invaluable for maintaining the closest friendships over the span of a long period of time. Though it may not provide the whole 55% of visual communication, it certainly puts you in a better position than relying only on written, or written and vocal communication.

Jesus’ 12 disciples understood the importance for face-to-face communication. They traveled all over the world spreading the Word and speaking to anyone who would listen and see their earnestness (Acts 10:22-26; 21:1-6). John expressed it in 3 John 1:13-14 when he wrote that it wasn’t enough to send a letter; he wanted to see the church in person. Paul understood the value of being physically present to his followers and friends as he traveled many, many miles by land and sea to encourage and strengthen them (Romans 1:11-13; 1 Corinthians 16:5-9; 2 Corinthians 1:15-16; Ephesians 6:21-22). Jesus himself showed numerous times in the gospels how important it was to speak to people face-to-face, to heal not only with words, but with touch (Matthew 9:27-31; 15:14-21; Luke 8:49-56; John 13:3-17). Jesus sent his disciples out to the people, rather than relying on other messengers, or paper messages, to spread the gospel (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-7). When Jesus healed the ten men with leprosy only one returned to thank him, in person, and it was that man whom Jesus blessed (Luke 17:11-19).

French philosopher Albert Camus once said, “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” While I’m grateful for today’s technology to increase the number of ways we can communicate with one another, there is nothing more valuable or important than a simple organic meeting of two individuals. Science and the Bible encourages it, so why do we think we’re doing so well limiting the amount of physical contact we have with one another?

I miss pure physical touch with my loved ones: holding their hand, giving and receiving a hug, smelling my father’s cologne, my mom's cooking, or my pre-pubescent brother’s post-basketball body odor. There’s nothing better and no amount of virtual contact can ever replace it. God himself said it’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and when be brought Eve to Adam he didn’t bring him a digital image, or a voice in the sky or an illusion to accompany him the rest of his life. He brought real flesh, heart and mind to walk with him every day, until the end of his days.

Put the phone down – seriously. When is the last time you really looked into the eyes of the person with whom you’re having a conversation? When is the last time you sat in silence for more than five seconds and let the silence be there while you listened to their body language rather than pick up your phone? Don’t take the relationships you have in life for granted – one day you’ll wake up and realize what used to be so important has become disappointingly shallow.

Let’s not forget to walk with each other.

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