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The boy and girl meet and hit it off; they cannot stop talking to each other. They’re exhausted from their day jobs but have uninterrupted energy to chat each other up throughout the night. There are no limits to how much they talk, share, and repeat. Of course, there is no history, grudges, unforgiveness, or bitterness between them. It’s the conference speaker or blogger who is so transparent about his life, knowing he does not live with his audience.
Marriage is when you start living with the stranger on the train in a 24/7, lifetime relationship, where sin abounds. You know your spouse like the back of your hand. You know their tendencies and weaknesses and their triggers. You have a historical record of all the times they hurt you. You are keenly aware when (or not) to be vulnerable. You factor in all the “communication risks” with your former stranger on the train.
This concept of sharing with freedom and without fear is called the disinhibition effect. There is little inhibition about being vulnerable with a stranger because he can’t hurt you, so you believe. Of course, the possibility of being vulnerable and a lack of perceived risk is part of the bait that cyberspace uses to lure you into its net.
In real-world relationships it’s more complex to “unlike” somebody. When bad things happen and hurts accumulate, you have to deal with them biblically (or not). How many times have you read on Facebook where a person said something unkind and never confessed it as sin or asked for forgiveness? It would be exceptional for a Christian to clean up their cyber dust-ups on social media.
The norm is a “hit and run” because they don’t have to interact with those annoying people in real life and space. The disinhibition effect releases you to say whatever is on your mind—things you would never say face-to-face. Real-world relationships take work and are tedious, and it’s a guarantee that you will offend someone. No wonder cyberspace is so popular. Hurting souls are everywhere, especially in a local church.
Real-life is strewn with broken people, while Facebook is full of folks who prefer false intimacy, as they put their best foot forward while keeping everyone at “cyber-arms-length.” Social media is like a drug to the hurting desperate soul. I use the drug analogy because of how drugs affect the addict who is desperate for an escape.
After you meet the stranger on the train, and both of you throw inhibition to the wind, you may convince yourself that you’re building a whole relationship with a whole person. You’re not. At best, what you have is true and false intimacy. You cannot replicate and enjoy God’s solution to companionship in cyberspace (Genesis 2:18).
If you cut yourself off from all potential hurt, it’s not possible to know God the way He wants you to know Him. You will carve out a world where you’re relying on yourself, building high walls and safe spaces (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). The adverse effect of not engaging real people in the real fallen world is that your safe space will incarcerate you. I’m talking about the cyber effect on your sanctification.
The most debilitating adverse impact of technology and social media is what it does to our Christian maturity—our progressive sanctification, especially in how we relate, engage, and participate while cooperating with God in the transformation of the body of Christ. If we don’t change each other in real-time and space, the damage to the body of Christ will be immediate and generational.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).