How cyber relationships affect real world relationships
Have you thought about how your cyber relationships might be impacting your real world relationships? Have you considered how those two different kinds of relationships influence each other? Which one do you prefer? Why do you prefer it?
We were made for community. There are many reasons for this. The main one is the mutual opportunity two or more people have to mature into a like-minded image bearing community that reflects the glory of God. The LORD said it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18), not because of some sort of need-deficit theory, as though Adam was dissatisfied or he was going to become dysfunctional by not having someone to complement him.
Adam lived in a perfect world. Whatever God designed was perfect. All the pieces the LORD placed in His perfect world were perfect. When the LORD said it was not good for Adam to be alone, it had to be for some other reason than a sinful one.
Sin came later.
The implication is Adam was made a communal being who had no other creature like him, which hindered him from being communal. It was not good for Adam to be the only person in Eden made in the image of the Trinity (Genesis 1:27).
To image the Trinity requires at least one other person, so the LORD made another person. This second person was different from Adam. It was a she, which came with a double blessing: Adam and Eve could image the original Trinity and also create more humans for more opportunities for more community.
Then came sin
After sin entered the equation everything went dark and sideways. Especially the community. Relating to each other was difficult. This is where we are today but it’s even more complicated. We are at a unique time in human history. We can create relationships for the benefit of community while removing some of the challenges of a community. We do this by building our communities in cyberspace.
Cyber relationships mitigate the sin problems we experience in real life relationships. If you stop liking a person, you can un-friend them. If you don’t un-friend them, you can lash out with impunity. The pertinent question is whether these types of “sort of but not completely real” relationships are truly solving the built-in intent for community.
Do cyber relationships enhance or hinder your maturity as a human being?
Four characteristics of cyber relationships
Cyber relationships are not fully real — No matter how much you think you know a cyber friend, you do not know them the way they really are. Even though your closest real life relationships may be mysterious, the fact you can perceive their mysteriousness by your interactions with them makes them more real than your cyber relationships.
Knowing people artificially in cyberspace gives you an artificial understanding of relationships. This makes it harder to have real world relationships, especially those relationships that have real-world baggage. Cyber friends are half friends, and it’s the other hidden half that keeps it from being real.
Cyber relationships are “easy come, easy go” — There is no question it’s easier to un-friend a cyber friend than a real world friend. Cyber relationships are easier to access and easier to dismiss. Some people like this context because of the “perceived safety” in these relationships. But is it really low risk and high reward?
If your habit is “easy come, easy go” then where and when will you learn how to have real world relationships? How are you going to respond when the back half of a person’s previously hidden life is no longer hidden?
Cyber relationships aren’t interested in conflict resolution — I want to circle back around to the “lash out with impunity” thing. If you don’t like what you read in cyberspace then all you have to do is fire off an unfiltered opinion.
The worst case for this is bullying but what we see more often are the unkind comments launched at a safe distance. The idea of “I’ll never say anything to a person online that I wouldn’t say to their face” never registers with some people. The unfiltered person’s main point is to make their point, not build up the other person redemptively.
Cyber relationships create bad relationship habits — This “ready, fire, aim” approach to communication is a bad habit. James could have written his wise words to our modern age when he (kinda) said to be quick to hear and slow to type (James 1:19).
I do wonder sometimes if the cyber person’s lack of self-control is self-controlled in his real world relationships. Sin has never been so neat that it would allow you to compartmentalize it: I have no control in cyberspace but I have self-control in my real world relationships. If you type without a biblical filter on the Internet, then your closest real relationships probably experience a similar kind of unkindness.
A few reflective thoughts
I’ve listed four ways cyber relationships can be damaging to real world relationships. Think about your cyber relationships. How do they affect your real world relationships?
Cyber relationships are not fully real
- Do you prefer cyber relationships over real world relationships?
- Do you prefer knowing only the good parts about a person because you don’t know how to deal with the bad parts?
Cyber relationships are “easy come, easy go”
- Do you like the fact you can unlike a person by clicking on a button?
- How do you think these “easy cyber break ups” prepare you for real world relationships?
Cyber relationships aren’t interested in conflict resolution
- Are you more interested in speaking your mind than learning the other person’s thoughts?
- Are your comments in cyberspace more about making your points or building a relationship?
Cyber relationships create bad relationship habits
- How are your real world relationship habits reflected in your cyber relationships?
- Do you have a hard time being fully known by your real world relationships?
If your cyber relationships are damaging your real world relationships, then you will have to decide if you want to limit your cyber interactions for the sake of your real world relationships or if you’d rather have the safety — albeit artificial — of the Internet.
There are many people who rather live in a fake world than learning and growing through the hard work of building relationships in the real world. This has been the lure of television. It gives the person who wants to escape from life a “safe” place to enjoy (watch) human interaction vicariously.
Television is a drop in the bucket to what the Internet is doing to us. You can amputate the television. You will never be able to amputate technology. Our lives are rapidly becoming more and more entangled in technology. To live on this planet, you have to live with technology.
Since you cannot fully terminate your relationship with technology, will you create at least one real-world relationship to help you engage technology redemptively?