Do you have a virtual life? Is it hurting your real life?
I’ve been “on-line” since 1993, and Lori and I have been doing message boards and other forms of virtual social life since 1997. Because of our experience, we have long understood the potential dangers of a virtual life. From its first version, the TMB Statement of Faith has included the following:
“We believe that God commands us to attend and support a local body of believers for teaching, worship, prayer and fellowship. Nothing, including the web, can replace face-to-face fellowship with other believers.”
The Internet is a powerful tool, and like all tools it can be used for good or evil; it can help or harm. Virtual relationships are especially prone to problems. Misunderstandings are common, offences are taken where none were intended, and feelings of friendship can be forged over a narrow slice of life apart from any other context of the people involved. On-line friendships can feel very real, but rarely are they based on a realistic awareness of who the people involved really are.
On-line “friendships” can steal great deals of time from real life relationships, including the marriage relationship. I saw this first hand years ago, and the marriage involved did not survive. On-line time has started being mentioned in divorces, and I would bet most ministers and counsellors who deal with marriages could tell stories of marriages stressed and even broken by the virtual life of one of the spouses.
Several studies, including one in the news the last few days, have suggested there is a correlation between time spent on social media and depression. I doubt it is as simple as more social media means you are more likely to be depressed, but there’s no question our virtual lives can make our real lives seem worse. Additionally, if a virtual life becomes an escape from real life, it will act like a drug or any other addition used to numb the pain of life. In small doses it might help, but usually it means spending less time dealing with the problems of real life, which makes those problems worse.
I’m all for facebook, twitter, and all the rest, but like all things we need balance and self-control. And, as with most things, if you can’t exercise self-control, giving it up completely is the only wise alternative.