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The Hyperconnected (but Healthy) Family

For all the potential pitfalls of the hyperconnectivity we find on Facebook and other social media, there are positives.

A friend of mine recently described a compelling snapshot of contemporary family life with his Twitter update: "Sitting around with the fam — we have laptops open while holding cellphones & texting, Facebooking, and Tweeting." While comical, it's a scene that's becoming increasingly familiar to many of us. Dad's on his iPad updating his blog. Mom's on her laptop finishing up work emails. The kids are texting friends on their iPhones while uploading pictures to Instagram. It's the portrait of a family experiencing an unprecedented level of connectivity, often in the same room at the same time.

But how is this new "hyperconnectivity," made possible by social media, reframing the way we think about and experience family? More importantly, what are ways we can respond to the growing online connectivity in our homes and nurture a healthy family?

This video provided courtesy of Bible Studies for Life, a series intentionally designed to help connect the unconnected, strengthen families, and disciple people with wisdom.

Rise of the hyperconnected

Historically, media have played a central role in defining the experience of home by creating shared family moments. Our grandparents gathered around the radio with their families and listened to the news or a variety show. Our parents sat around, eyes glued to the family's favorite TV show on the fuzzy black-and-white screen. It makes sense, then, that Facebook and other social media would be part of how we share family moments and create the experience of home.

Yet there are significant differences in social media that have changed the rules and, as a result, are changing the experience of home in ways that radio and television never could. Thanks to the internet revolution, each one of us now possesses a personal network of relationships beyond the scope of anything previously imagined. We have hundreds and even thousands of Facebook friends.

We have more relational connectivity than we have capacity. This is what is meant by "hyperconnection." Unfortunately, hyperconnection often means having a reduced capacity for deep connection, thanks to the fact that we're human beings with finite head and heart space. On average, Facebook users have 229 friends each, and the average user has never met seven percent of his or her friends, according to a 2011 study conducted by Pew Research. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has stated that the maximum number of relationships we can track is roughly 150. That's because the neocortex of a human's brain is a certain size, making the limits of our social group a certain size. But hyperconnectivity pushes our natural relational capacity beyond its limits.

This can be challenging at home since most of us already have too many activities and responsibilities. We're increasingly forgetting events we've scheduled, assignments due, and children we were supposed to pick up from soccer practice (sorry, kids).

Though research shows we're getting better at multitasking, it's also revealing Continuous Partial Attention (CPA), which is defined by contrasting it with multitasking: CPA and multitasking are different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses. When we multitask, we're motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient.

However, with CPA, we're motivated by a desire not to miss anything. There's a vigilance that's uncharacteristic of multitasking. With CPA, we feel most alive when we're connected, plugged in, and in the know. CPA is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis.

We're always on high alert. Hyperconnectivity has naturally led toward a growing CPA in all of us. Think about how often your lunch appointment has been interrupted by a cellphone call or a text that you felt you had to answer. Or consider the dad pushing his toddler son in a stroller while talking loudly on his cellphone. Constant

Facebook checking is, of course, another sign of CPA. On Facebook, we consume one another's personal information like relational vacuums, sucking up the latest status updates, pictures, videos, and never-ending games of Farmville. Is it possible that in our desire not to miss out on that call, that email, that meeting, we potentially miss out on the things that matter most? After all, our full attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another.

Four ways to be hyperconnected at home (in a good way)

For all the potential pitfalls of the hyperconnectivity we find on Facebook and other social media, there are positives.

Here are four ways we can thoughtfully and intentionally engage a hyperconnected world that are good for us and good for our families.

1. This is a time in history to be curious and open, not fearful and closed.

Whenever change occurs, something is lost and something is gained. We're experiencing a significant change in human interaction by means of social media, and that can feel scary. But it needn't be. Keep in mind, none of this takes God by surprise, and He's more than able to show us the best ways to live in a hyperconnected world if we're willing to listen and learn from Him and one another.

2. Be in regular, open conversation with your family members about their experiences on Facebook, Twitter, texting, and email.

Don't be quick to judge the new ways in which your child is communicating — after all, your mother probably thought you spent too much time on the phone when you were a kid. And parents, if your child is on Facebook, you should be, too (whether or not you are "friends" with your child). You have to be having your own experience of it if you want to be heard on the matter.

3. Practice regular rhythms of disconnection.

Just because we're now capable of being "always on" doesn't mean we have to be. Don't check your email right before you go to bed or immediately upon waking up. Create regular space for quiet and gratitude. It's OK to turn off your phone during a meeting — voicemail will take your calls anyway, right? It's even OK to take regular breaks from Facebook. One day a week, I don't go online at all. The experience makes me feel "at home" again in my own skin and reminds me that God works even while I'm offline.

4. Use the tendency toward social media the way your grandparents did and turn it into shared family moments.

Gather around and play Farmville together. Scroll through your cousin's pictures with your kids. Over dinner, talk about any interesting emails or new connections that family members experienced that day. And maybe it's not such a bad idea to sit around as a family, emailing and texting together. In short, make your experience of social media social, and you may find it brings life, not distraction, to your home.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

Jesse Rice is a writer, speaker, and musician, who lives near Seattle, Washington, with his amazing wife, Katie, his son, Ryder, and his yellow lab, Boone. He's the author of The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community (David C. Cook).