October 13th, 2013


Leonard Pitts on social media and human connection

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Yesterday, an editorial from Leonard Pitts got me talking over at FB about why I value my online friendships. Since this is something that some of you care deeply about, I thought Id throw it up here as well. Thoughts?


Usually I agree with Leonard Pitts. He’s a smart man who writes with intellectual and moral courage on issues that matter to me. But on the issue of social media friendships being somehow less real, I have to disagree.

Pitts is talking about the case out in San Francisco, where someone got shot on a subway and no one even saw the gun until after the murder. His basic point is we’re all so lost in our own worlds we don’t reach out to the people standing next to us. Trouble is, I’ve seen similar scenes (not the gun, but everyone stuck in their own little world) on the NYC subways. No internet there so some people were on cell phones, but most were buried behind newspapers. Some were just “resting their eyelids” out of sheer exhaustion. I can imagine a train car full of this, without the social media entering into it.

The flip side: for me, social media has been great for bringing people together. I’ve reconnected with family and seen pictures of my cousins’ kids, whereas a generation that would have been a once-a-year kind of thing. I’ve maintained relationships with old friends from undergrad. And I’ve got friends I’ve known for going on a decade and who I love dearly, though we’ve never met face to face. People who I am better suited to and who I have more in common with than people I know from my offline life.

You have to work at those relationships just like any other, and they have weaknesses as well as strengths. But the medium is not the problem – it’s self-centeredness and an inability to connect with others, no matter what the method of communication. I may not chat up people I bump into on the bus as much, but given the way *good* online relationships can work, I consider that more than a fair tradeoff.

(Of course, we must also keep our eyes open to those around us. A car full of rush hour commuters should have seen a gun being waved around, if only out of self-protection. Obviously. But that would be just as true if they were reading the Post as if they were playing Angry Birds.)