On April 1, I conducted a little prank on Facebook for April Fools' Day. But the results of my mild experiment were not what I expected. And, for me, the experience has me wondering if we are really using technology to its fullest potential to help our relationships flourish.
The joke started out as something very simple. Facebook has profile preferences where a person can change their birthday. I had just celebrated my birthday in mid-February. So I changed my birthday on my Facebook profile to April 1 just to see if my friends would catch the error. One hundred and three birthday wishes later and only a couple of close friends had noticed.
Then I decided to up the stakes a bit. That afternoon I had my wife wish me a happy 13th anniversary (our anniversary is in July). I then publicly wished her the same that evening. Forty "likes" later I was starting to wonder if we had many friends at all.
I say this because some of the people "liking" the post had been at our wedding. Many of them had to take off work to be there. For years, several have continually commented that it was the best wedding they've ever been to. A couple of them had been in our wedding party. For crying out loud, my own brother liked the post.
Something was obviously awry. I started thinking maybe the joke was on me. But it wasn't. People were being very kind and genuine -- they had just honestly forgotten. Or had they?
I wonder, even though technology poses such wonderful opportunities to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, whether we fully avail ourselves of its benefits. While we may be interacting with a greater quantity of people more regularly, are we sacrificing something when we reduce our interactions to 140 characters on Twitter or a series of "likes" on Facebook? What is that Instagram picture of your meal really meant to convey to your friends?
Are we trading convenience for flourishing relationships and personal growth? Are we trading authentic care and personal interaction for the ease of automated scheduling and mindless approval? I'm not saying that we necessarily need to memorize all of our friends' birthdays or anniversaries, but I am positing that sometimes we use technology as an excuse for evading closeness with others. In some ways we may seem closer than ever to our friends and family yet, in other ways, we have never been farther apart.
Please don't misunderstand me, this isn't meant to be a critique of technology. It is meant to be a critique of us. Technology, as I see it, is just a tool. It is up to us whether we use it in ways that promote health or dysfunction.
As often happens in life, my little prank ended up affecting me more than it did my friends. But once I realized how many people cared to take the time out of their busy lives to comment or appreciate my wife and me -- even in the midst of a hoax -- it made me realize that I need to be better at keeping up with people. As a result, I spent the next four hours messaging friends from long ago and trying to catch up with the developments of their lives.
For me, that was just a start.
The ethic of this story: Life is short and technology is exponentially advancing, so make the time to tell the ones you love what they mean to you. The most precious thing we have in this life is our relationships. When we forget that fact, it's our very selves we allow to become the hoax.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.