Last year, Stephen Marche sounded the inevitable cry of panic about social media when his article entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” was published in the May 2012 edition of The Atlantic.
“Why was it inevitable?” you might ask. To which I would reply, “Must you ask?”.
Human beings have looked upon every new thing since the creation of dirt with suspicion. It is a point that Barry Glassner persuasively makes in “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things“.
Rather than wringing our hands over whether or not good things can be used for bad ends (they certainly can), let me tell you a story about how social media helped create experiences that changed a life. It provided a fresh new outlook on their personal calling and provided them with the means to be of genuine help to others.
That person was me.
I came to social networking through the illness and death of my 4-year-old nephew, David Wilkerson III. ”Little David” or “Big Man”, as we loved to call him, was born with Down Syndrome. He had barely begun to toddle when he was diagnosed with AML Leukemia, a particularly nasty, insidious, hard-to-cure form of Leukemia that seems to prefer Down Syndrome kids.
In a turn of good fortune that I can only ever think of as sheer providence and mercy, my wife Linda, and I were told about a way that we could keep relatives and friends all over the country up-to-date on Little David’s battle with Leukemia, through an on-line forum called Caring Bridge.
I spent the next two years journaling my heart out in search of, as I put it to Linda, “one righteous person whose prayers are effective (James 5:16).” It turned out that there were a whole lot more righteous people out there than I ever imagined.
Caring Bridge became a faith community that God used to fill our lives to the brim with hope, comfort, encouragement and miracles. Although he ultimately died at age 4, our extended family enjoyed an incredible journey with one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever known.
“People just need to meet my boy,” his father used to tell me over and over. “He changes people.”
Little David’s life touched so many people through social media and so many of them reached out to support and encourage him.
At one point Linda and I were reading the comments that people were leaving for David’s parents on Caring Bridge. Linda reached out toward the computer screen and said quietly, “This is the body of Christ. Right here.”
Caring Bridge isn’t only for Christians, but that is the faith experience that binds our extended family. Every day more than half a million people are able to support loved ones through Caring Bridge, and they do in in every possible circumstance.
So you can see why I am committed to being online.
Since Little David died, I’ve transferred a lot of energy to Twitter, Facebook, and a wonderful Christian web site called Faith Village.
I’ve endured my fair share of teasing about my being so into social media.
The truth is that I act ashamed of it too often, when the real story is actually miraculous.
This week alone social networks have been the primary channel through which I was informed of a young woman hospitalized in one of Baylor Health Care System’s hospitals, making it possible for us to offer immediate support to her and her family.
I was also able to reach out to a young woman who is a drop-out whose father has been abusing her and was asked to pray for five people who are facing crises in their lives who then were able to connect with a family member for much-needed spiritual support in her home town in another country.
I have ongoing pastoral relationships with people I have never seen because of social media. Another of them, an Azerbaijani doctoral student in Sweden who essentially lives in exile there while determinedly preparing herself to make a contribution to her suffering people group in that country.
Will social media make you lonely? You tell me.