Last summer, in this space, I pondered joining Facebook. Several friends had asked me to join them there, enticing me with the idea of finding long-lost friends and easily communicating with current friends, both online and real life.
Since then I've thought about it off and on, and have watched as some of my friends from message boards and other groups have enthusiastically joined in. Then I asked a real-life friend, whose computer discipline I admire, if she had joined. She hadn't, but had been able to check it out via her husband's page, or something like that. And she said "It was fun, but an hour went by in a blink. No thanks."
And that started me thinking about where my life is, and where it should be.
No Luddite here - my computer is nearly always on. Banking, library searches, homeschool recordkeeping, bill-paying, calendar-keeping - it's all here. I have a few friends with whom I communicate with via email almost exclusively. Talking on the phone is difficult because it seems it almost always rings at the wrong time - whether I am calling someone else or they are calling me. But email is never intrusive nor does it come at the wrong time. Some friends from my old home in Oregon are still in my life because of email. But when I think of those friends and what I miss most, it's the time they spent sitting around my kitchen table, drinking coffee or tea or wine and talking: about homeschooling, theology, life. Sure, now we email because we are 3,000 miles apart. But before that, we emailed to set up playdates for the kids and coffee dates for the moms.
There are also the friends I've never met in person but "know" and communicate with via message boards and blog comments. A few of these I've had the great pleasure of meeting, but most I have not. Maybe someday. I wouldn't want to give these relationships up.
But when I am fellowshipping with people over the 'net, I am not doing so with people right here.Why are my husband and I spending more time emailing each other funny or annoying articles from our separate computers than we are sitting next to each other on the couch? How come I'm not spending more time reading to or playing games with my kids? Why aren't the elderly ladies that live on my street over here being served tea and cookies more often? Why don't we know more people in our homeschool group?
Ever tell your kids, when they come to you while you're in the middle of posting on a message board or commenting on someone's blog (or whatever), to "wait a minute till I get this done" - as if it's an essential activity and more important than them? Of course our kids don't need our attention every minute, and moms especially need to be able to say "not now" without feeling guilty. The kids need to see us doing more than tending to their needs and desires. But, how much and how often should they see us "hanging out" with people online?
Sometimes women blog/email/talk about their lack of ability to get their housework done, homeschool the kids, cook a decent meal, etc. They are overwhelmed! So busy! Then in the next breath (keystroke?) we are hearing about all the fun of social networking sites and how addicting they are. (I am sometimes one of them.) Does this make sense?
The other night I spent about 2 hours in Starbucks with a real life friendly acquaintance. I wouldn't call her a friend at this point. This woman is hurting over all sorts of things and needed to talk. And talk. And keep on talking. It wasn't the most satisfying evening ever. I might have had more fun on Facebook connecting with people I haven't seen since high school graduation. But wait, I was an outcast in high school - what do I want to look those people up for anyway? Why would that be a better use of my time than listening to someone cry out for help across a cafe table?
Now don't go getting defensive on me and say "well just because it doesn't work for you..." Of course there are good reasons to communicate with people via various online methods. Social networking sites are great for far-flung families or friend groups, people with specific interests... lots of reasons, good ones. Just be honest with yourself about it. Some people are better at finding balance than others. Of course. And some of us might just be older and uncomfortable with increasing technology in our lives. Why, in my day, we just had newsgroups! And we used them to set up pub get-togethers!
But, really, think about it: is there a person in your real life who would like you to step away from the computer right now?
Maybe someday I will take a deeper plunge into online life. (Indeed, now that I've complained about it, I'll probably find myself doing it sooner rather than later.) But right now real life is more appealing and more important.
Where is your life?