Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Changing definitions of friendship

Thursday December 6 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Changing definitions of friendship

I asked several dozen people whether the use of “friend” to refer to contacts on social networking websites is changing the way they understand friendship. All of them said no.

A good number of people who responded to my question, ranging in age from late teens to late forties, said that all their contacts on Facebook are people they already know fairly well or very well. So calling them friends is appropriate.

The rest of the people who responded to my question said that they have a variety of ways of referring to a Facebook friend who they do not know in person or do not know well enough to call a real friend. They might say “Facebook contact” or “someone I know on Facebook.” One woman said that when she refers to friends, she usually uses some kind of modifier anyway: “friend from high school,” “friend from work,” or “Facebook friend” if she knows the person only from Facebook. Many of those friends from high school and from work are also her friends on Facebook, but she doesn’t think of them that way because the connection is rooted elsewhere in her life.

Online social networking has changed friendship vocabulary in one notable way. The word “friend” has become a verb. To “friend” someone is to request that they become a friend on a social networking website or to accept their request. To “unfriend” refers to the act of deleting him or her as an online contact. In my interviews, no one used “friend” or “unfriend” as verbs for anything other than online actions. Perhaps in the years to come, “friend” or “unfriend” as verbs will also be used to refer to acts related to face-to-face friendship, but I didn’t hear anyone use the words that way.

I like some aspects of the verb “friending.” I want to encourage discussion about the ways friendship—online or offline—is like a verb. Being a friend involves significant actions of caring and commitment. The old adage, the only way to have a friend is to be a friend, is still profound and true. Learning how to be a friend, and engaging consistently in actions that express friendship, reflects the reality that friendship is more like a verb than a noun.

I believe that nurturing deep friendships in any setting requires determined intentionality and commitment. Today’s Western lifestyle creates three major challenges to friendship: the online component of so many relationships, the frantic pace of life, and the scattering of family and friends to dispersed locations. Never before have so many people conducted so many of their relationships using such a wide range of technologies that include cell phones, computers, tablets, gaming consoles connected to the internet, and many other forms of technology.

Never before has the pace of life been so frantic, with electric light making day and night irrelevant and with people racing around juggling a myriad of commitments. And never before has mobility been so rampant, resulting in families and friends dispersed to the four corners of the world. 

As you think about these shifts and challenges, here are some questions to ponder about your own friendships:

What is the balance in your life between online, phone and face-to-face communication with friends? What priority do you give to each? What do you think and feel about your patterns of connection?

What role do busyness and distance play in making friendships challenging for you? What strategies have been successful for you in overcoming those challenges?

(Next week: Confidence about friendship. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This is the fifth post in a series. The previous posts are:
Nuturing friendships in a cellphone world                
Strong opinions and responses                 
My conversation partners about friendship          
Two views about commmunication technologies            

Listening is a key friendship skill. I've got three articles on this website about listening. You can access them here.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Two views about communication technologies

Thursday November 29 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Two views about communication technologies

My sons represent two significant viewpoints about friendships and new communication technologies. My younger son believes that this is the best time in human history for friendships, simply because of the many options for staying connected. “I can be on a business trip in New York City,” he said, “and I see something in a shop window that reminds me of a friend in Europe. I can pull out my cell phone and flip him a text message. Or I can send him an email or instant message with him. I can post something on Facebook or on my blog that I know that friend will like.”

All those varied forms of contact, he believes, make it possible for us to begin from a point of connection rather than distance when we see friends face-to-face. He notes that the variety of ways to connect provides options for people with different communication preferences to find one way or a few ways to stay in touch that suits them. He is convinced that all of this makes friendship alive and vibrant in our time.

My older son enjoys the variety of ways to stay connected as well, but he has concerns about them and is generally less optimistic than his brother about their benefits. He believes we are shaped by the communication technologies we use the most. He is concerned about the brevity of cell phone text messages, updates on social networking websites and even emails. He believes they nurture glib and flippant communication styles that damage meaningful communication and inhibit depth in relationships, particularly over the long haul.

“Have you ever noticed,” my older son said, “that the actors in movies from the 1950s all seem to talk in rich, plummy tones? They sound like radio announcers, which is understandable because they all listened to hours and hours of radio during the Depression and World War II. Their communication style was shaped by what they heard so often. In the same way, people who watch a lot of TV seem to talk in sound bites and expect everyone to be beautiful. Just watch. People who send a lot of text messages and post short, offhand comments on Twitter or Facebook are going to be shaped by that style of communicating.”

Scholars call his viewpoint “technological determinism.” [1] This school of thought asserts that the communication technologies we use determine the way we use them; each communication technology has its limits, and those limits shape the messages and ultimately shape the person sending the messages as well. Much of the negative discourse about online communication and smart phones comes from the technological determinist perspective. Because cell phone texting and most internet communication eliminate non-verbal cues that convey emotion, technological determinists are deeply concerned that significant aspects of human communication are missing when certain communication technologies are used.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the view that technologies are inherently neutral, that the content we put in them gives them form and meaning. My younger son’s optimism about the all the wonderful ways to stay connected today has some parallels with this “technology is neutral” way of thinking

Heidi Campbell, a researcher who studies the way religious communities and individuals in them use new communication technologies, argues for a middle ground. She notes that people of faith — like everyone else — have always shaped different communication technologies to suit their own needs. [2] The printing press, telegraph, telephone, TV, movies, the internet and smart phones have been, and are being, used strategically to meet the goals of organizations and individuals. She believes that any technology does not totally determine the way it is used. Her research indicates that people bring their own priorities, goals and passions to communication technologies and shape their use in unexpected ways.

Yet, at the same time, she agrees that each form of communication encourages some styles of interaction and makes other styles more difficult. She believes that online communication is excellent for conveying information; however, depth, emotion and intimate connection are harder to convey online. Heidi Campbell believes, as I do, that nurturing deep relationships that have a significant online component requires intentionality and commitment.

Ultimately where we land on the spectrum—of technological determinism versus technology as neutral—is not the most significant issue with respect to friendship. Communication technologies are what they are, and they are what we make of them.

Meanwhile, this series of blog posts focuses on friendship: what friendship is, and what we make of our friendships. It’s my hope that this series (and perhaps also my book on friendship) will help you explore all sides of the spectrum and come out the other side with deeper, richer experiences of friendship in all its fullness.

(Next week: Changing definitions of friendship. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This is the second series about friendship on this blog. The first series was called "Initiative in Friendships," and you can read the first post here. Just click "next post" at the bottom and you can work your way through the series of seven posts. Here are three of my favorite posts in the series:
         What Mary might have missed                    
         Different ways of initiating                   
         A gift given to me by initiative                             

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know. If you read the series "Initiative in Friendship," mentioned above, you'll get an idea of what one chapter is like.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

[1] “The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan asserted in 1967 in the book with the same title. Neil Postman made a similar argument in 1985 in Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York, Penguin, 2005, twentieth anniversary edition).
[2] Heidi Campbell is the author of two significant books that explore the way religious communities use the internet and other new communication technologies: When Religion Meets New Media (London: Routledge, 2010) and Exploring Religious Community Online (London: Peter Lang, 2005). The opinions attributed to Dr. Campbell in these two paragraphs come from interviews with her by the author, November 14 to 18, 2009.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: My conversation partners about friendship

Thursday November 22 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: My conversation partners about friendship

In preparation for writing my book on friendship, I interviewed dozens of people ranging in age from 12 to 85. They said fantastic and fascinating things about friendship. I used their voices throughout the book, and I also drew on the voices of some of my closest family members, with whom I’ve been discussing friendship all my life.

My mother, now in her mid-nineties, has been a powerful model of friendship for me. She has always had a small group of close friends and a whopping circle of other friends and acquaintances. She is always open to making a new friend at church, at her golf club, in her neighborhood or in the wider community. She invites people over for meals, writes cards and notes, makes phone calls, sends emails and shares photos online, and she continues to do these things in her 90s. My father died several years ago, and she now goes on trips with her friends. She is always very conscious of those friends she hasn’t seen for a while, and she makes contact when too much time has elapsed. Mom has said to me many times, “You have to work at friendships. If you don’t, they wither.” She lives out her commitment to her friends every day of her life.

My brother is another valuable conversation partner with me on the subject of friendships. Mark has a tight circle of close friends, and he had made many intentional choices to provide support to them over the years. He works hard to be faithful to his family, so he limits his time with friends, but he never neglects them. Every Friday after work he gathers with his buddies to drink beer and swap stories for a couple of hours. He might play golf or squash with one or two of them during the week as well. Once a year he spends a weekend in Reno with his circle of local friends, expanded to include his two closest friends from high school who live a couple hundred miles away. And once a year, this same group of his local and high school friends spends five days together skiing. My brother exemplifies a wonderful balance of work, family and friends, and he also models careful, intentional thinking about his friendships.

My two sons have also stimulated my thinking about friendships. My younger son did masters degrees in England and Denmark, then lived Denmark and Germany for a decade. He made friends with people from all over the world and nurtures his connection with them in a variety of ways: blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, texting, emailing, Skyping, and visiting. It has been fascinating to watch him use such a wide variety of means to stay connected. My older son has nurtured a deep friendship with his wife, and he also stays in close touch with his childhood best friend and a wider circle of friends. You'll read more about both sons next week because they have very different views of contemporary communication technologies, and their viewpoints summarize some of the major issues I want to cover.

In my interviews, when people talked about social networking, most of them referred to Facebook. Those interviews were conducted a few years ago. I wonder what most people would refer to now.

In addition to social networking websites, many other new forms of communication connect friends with each other. Many bloggers enjoy in-depth discussions with the people who respond to their blog posts. Photo-sharing websites, online support groups and websites for people with narrowly focused interests provide venues for meaningful connection. Skype, Facetime, and other forms of online video conferencing play a major role in many people’s lives. Email remains popular, and many people use instant messaging and cell phone texting. These and other communication options will undoubtedly continue to proliferate, and the kinds of intentionality and commitment that have always been necessary for friendship will have relevance for the new, and as yet unknown, forms of connection as well.

(Next week: Two views about communication technologies. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This is the second series about friendship on this blog. The first series was called "Initiative in Friendships," and you can read the first post here. Just click "next post" at the bottom and you can work your way through the series of seven posts. Here are three of my favorite posts in the series:
         What Mary might have missed                    
         Different ways of initiating                   
         A gift given to me by initiative                             

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know. If you read the series "Initiative in Friendship," mentioned above, you'll get an idea of what one chapter is like.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

Thursday November 15 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

It was a bit daunting, a few years ago, to undertake the writing of a book on friendship, because so many people have such vehement opinions about social media. I have read their forceful views online in blogs and newspapers, and in print as well. I’ve heard strong opinions from friends and family members. Opinions on the subject of friendship today, and especially the role of online communication, vary tremendously.

On the one hand, many writers have expressed their passionate opinion—usually based on their own experience—that the many new communication technologies facilitate friendships in fresh and exciting ways. All these new ways of communicating are helpful, they say, in mitigating against the busy schedules and scattering of loved ones that can make relationships challenging in our time.

On the other hand, many other writers use language like “faux,” “pseudo” or “imitation” to describe friendships today, particularly friendships with a significant internet component. They believe we have exchanged meaningful and intimate face-to-face friendships for impersonal, superficial online connections. People can’t talk to each other with any depth these days, they assert, and as a result relationships are impoverished.

As I began to write a book on friendship today, I wondered how I would navigate a path in the midst of these strong and heartfelt opinions.

I also felt daunted at the challenge of writing the book because putting friendship under a microscope seems potentially dangerous. What if it damaged my own friendships? My friends are one of the most precious gifts in my life. They have supported, encouraged and affirmed me. When times have been hard, they have listened to my endless worries and complaints.

I am thrilled at the diversity of gifts and personalities among my friends, and I feel awed when I think about their commitments and expertise in so many areas. To have a window into their thoughts and priorities is a great privilege, and to be a part of their lives challenges me to be my best self.

To analyze something almost always changes it. Scary.

But I knew I wanted to write the book. I’ve been thinking about friendships and how they work since I was a child. We moved almost a dozen times in my first 15 years, so from an early age I had to give attention to the question of how to find and care for friends. I believe the basic skills of friendship remain constant, and I wanted to write about those skills, exploring the way they apply in the global, frenetic, digitally-connected world today.

I see friendship as a spiritual practice, a place where we live out the things we believe in. Friendship is a space where our values and commitments take flesh. This is true for people of any kind of religious commitment or people who have none.

For the sake of readers who have a Christian faith commitment or an interest in seeing the connections between the Christian faith and friendship today, I wanted to discuss the ways friendship with God overlaps with our other friendships. This very best Friend can teach us a lot about how to relate to others, guiding us, empowering us and giving us the confidence and peace that undergird healthy friendships. The many biblical passages about relationships are just as relevant in the online world and in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces today as they were in dusty Palestine two thousand years ago.

(Next week: My conversation partners about friendship. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

First post in a new series: Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world

Friday November 9 2018

First post in a new series: Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world

“A friend is someone you can rely on through thick and thin, who understands you, and who would tell you the cold hard truth. A friend is someone with similar interests who you want to spend time with. A friend understands your jokes and makes you smile.” —A  definition from group of teenagers, aged 16-19

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”—Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

The light from a clear blue sky flooded my home office as I turned on my computer. My husband was eating breakfast, and the cheerful clinking of dishes from the other side of the house, coupled with the slanting morning sunshine on the trees outside my window, made me feel lighthearted and optimistic about the day.

I found a handful of new emails, one of them from my editor at InterVarsity Press. He and I had been discussing the possibility that I would write a book on friendship as a spiritual practice in this electronic age. When I saw his email, I wondered if the editorial committee had met to discuss my proposal.

I opened the email. Great news! They wanted me to write the book.

I wrote back, telling him I was delighted and mentioning one detail I’d thought of since we last corresponded. I closed his email and found one from my brother, Mark, responding to an article about golf I had sent him the day before and mentioning his son, Ross, who was working in a hotel.

Hi there Lynne. That was a funny article you sent me yesterday. We’re feeling pretty happy here because Ross just got a promotion. He’ll have a regular shift at the front desk rather than filling in as needed. It will mean full time hours for him. 

I wrote a quick email back to Mark.

Give Ross my congratulations. And you can congratulate me, too. You’re the first person to know I’m going to be writing a book on friendship in the Facebook age. I just got an email from my editor and I’m really, really happy.

Mark happened to be online and wrote back right away.

Great news, Lynne. Here’s a story for your book. Ross found out that the position had opened up at work because of Facebook. The guy who was fired from the position did some venting on Facebook, so Ross knew he could apply. Ross heard the news first on Facebook, at home, on his day off.

I wrote back to Mark, joking about the situation and its significance for what I wanted to say in the book. As I wrote, I pondered the fact that Mark was writing from his office in Oregon, while I lived in New Zealand. My brother and I – seven thousand miles apart – were having this conversation about my book and about communication today, while my husband was peacefully eating breakfast only two rooms away from me, not yet knowing I was going to write the book.

Was something wrong with this picture, I wondered. Not everyone can say their husband is their best friend, but I can. Was I slighting my best friend, who happened to be in close physical proximity to me, to have this online discussion with my brother, who I also view as a close friend – located in that moment on the other side of the world? Or was this simply a normal aspect of life today?

The new communication technologies of the past two to three decades have shrunk our world. People far away are present to us with an immediacy that was unimaginable only 30 years ago. What are “real” relationships in this new context? What are the characteristics of healthy, life-giving friendships in today’s world? What choices and skills are necessary to navigate these new realities?

This is the first post in a series adapted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. Next week I’ll write briefly about some of the strong opinions about the questions I just posed, plus look at some of the aspects of friendship that can be viewed as a spiritual practice.

(Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

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