A couple of years ago, The Washington Post columnist Caitlin Dewey reported on a study showing that Facebook use among teenagers had plummeted from 72 percent to 45 percent. Where exactly were all these teens fleeing for virtual connection? Places like Twitter, Snapchat, and Tumblr. Such sea changes are nothing new, of course. If you’re sufficiently ancient (read: eligible to vote more than five or six years ago) you’ll recall that, before Facebook’s ascendance, Myspace was the leading way to see and be seen in cyberspace. And those who have fled Facebook? Before too long, many will have moved on yet again to some cooler, greener pasture promising an even simpler immersion in (digitized) connection, (virtual) community, and (pseudo) meaning. Sociologist Sherry Turkle helps uncover what’s taking place:
Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections ... may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.
Remember friendship? This fundamental human relationship has suffered so much reimagining, rebranding, and reengineering that it now lacks any clear definition. Historically understood as one of the deepest and most complex of relationships, it now frequently inhabits the same mental space as the act of flipping through carefully curated images of other people’s lives and occasionally pressing an icon of approval.
Surely something as biblical and supremely human as the discipline of friendship is worth recapturing. But where do we begin? How can we reclaim the biblical contours of such an important relationship?
Here are two observations that might serve us well.
1. Friendship demands biblical definition.
Back in my college days, DTRs (“Define the Relationship”) were in vogue. When two people needed clarity about how to relate to one another — typically in a romantic context—a DTR conversation was often held. A careful, honest DTR can be fruitful, bringing structure and focus to the often churning emotions of young adults.