The Plastic Fruit of Online Living

Online, Jill is a joyful and encouraging believer. She advocates for the oppressed and raises money for the poor. Every Saturday she tweets about her service at the local homeless shelter. She posts Bible verses several times a day. Based on her social media interactions, her friends seem to love and enjoy her.

Offline, she’s a different Jill.

Offline Jill seems standoffish and unengaged with her church community. Her online activism feels more like judgmentalism and, while happy to volunteer at a shelter, she can’t be bothered to serve her local church. Hurt by her apparent disinterest, Jill’s peers feel ignored and pushed away. She seems more content to live online than face-to-face.

How can Jill’s online life look so different from her real life? I can’t judge her; I’ve been her and seen the fallout.

I Trick You

What I allow you to see online shapes your perception of me.

I put forth the cleanest version of myself not to intentionally fool you, but because I want to glorify God in all I say and do (and for more selfish reasons). I avoid broadcasting my negativity to keep you from stumbling (again, and for more selfish reasons). I carefully steward my statuses, affirm others, and avoid grumbling and complaining. I mind my moral and social p’s and q’s.

It’s an admittedly misleading version of myself. I’m not posting, “Wow. I’m totally out of control. #ShamingMySon,” or “I haven’t done laundry in a month. #RatherBeTweeting.” It’s not that I’m unaware of my sin; I’ve just methodically eliminated the evidence. You assume I sin sometimes, but not because I’ve confessed.

In short, basing your impression of me on my social media profile would result in an embarrassingly inaccurate rendering of reality.

I Trick Me

What I present online unintentionally shapes my self-awareness, too.

Looking at the neatest, tidiest version of myself is sneakily alluring. I like the feeling of appearing perfect. The onlooking masses (or handful of friends) needn’t know I sin, well, regularly.

To be honest, my own sin surprises me. I’m shocked when pride surfaces, self-control slips, or I fall prey to the same idolatrous patterns I’ve been battling for years. My gut reaction isn’t Woe is me, I am a woman of unclean lips, but embarrassment about the evidence of indwelling sin I thought I could hide.

If Real Me is radically different than Online Me, which me is real, and which is the impostor? If I’m failing to demonstrate the same fruit of the Spirit in “real life” as I do online, it’s probably plastic fruit—and I need to be aware of the discrepancy.

Getting Comfortable

It’s fun to fill your life with Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and blog readers who seem to care every time you nail a Pinterest project or your kid does something cool. Who wouldn’t love an audience to “like” all their pictures and “ooh and aah” over their craftiness?

But brothers and sisters, we must recognize this self-obsession and pride for what it is.

When I’m being encouraged primarily by online relationships, and large portions of my time are spent reading my own good press, it can get pretty comfortable on the sofa of social media. I like living in an online world where there’s no need for my community to truly bear with me. I’d rather bask in the love of my digital perfection than stumble and fall before real people who will call me out and hold me accountable.

If I’m not careful, hanging out where no one knows my dirt can easily lull me away from reality into a life of insincerity and isolation.

Being Present 

Avoiding real-life connections—the ones you see every Sunday morning—to unpack your heart in the digital community doesn’t only set you up for a delusional view of self, disappointment with your physical community, and social isolation; it also breeds spiritual stagnancy.

No matter how great your internet friends are, they aren’t standing beside you, sensing your suffocating self-absorption. They don’t see you at your worst or notice when you’re avoiding fellowship or suffering from spiritual depression. They won’t pick up on your dissatisfaction with your spouse, your constant bitterness or negativity, or your refusal to forgive the friend who hurt you. But real-life friends, the ones who can drive to your doorstep when you call, will.

I need friends who will get in my grill, iron sharpening iron, and help me to conquer sin head-on. I may turn a blind eye to my own social media slickness, but true friends won’t. I need to be confronted by my sinfulness in real life, where there’s no filter and no delete button.

Our Real and Present Need

My greatest need isn’t a public relations manager; it’s a Redeemer. And real-life, everyday friends—the ones aware of both my sin and the gospel’s power—will regularly remind me of this need.

Long-distance and digital friendships, no matter how wonderful they are, cannot gain full access into our souls. Seeing a friend’s compassionate eyes, holding her hand, and kneeling together in prayer are evidences of God’s tangible nearness in the war against sin.

Don’t settle for keeping your life primarily or exclusively online. Social media is a poor substitute for physical presence. Strive, fight for, and pour into those friends with whose voices, body language, and quirky personalities you’re well familiar. These are the hearts that know your heart—and are praying and engaging for your sanctification.

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  • Kim

    Such great reminders Lindsey–thank you for writing this! I easily resonate with so much of what you say and have experienced! :)

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  • Hannah Anderson

    Great penetrating (i.e. convicting) work Lindsey!

  • Melody

    On the flip side, I identify more with with this article

    And while I have a few friends that I know polish up their facebook images (though it’s not as if they’re fooling anyone)- most people I know are about at transparent as they would be at any other social gathering.

    Thanks to facebook I’ve known about some frustrating situations that long-distance friends were going through and been able to have private conversations encouraging them. I’m able to stay updated on the terrifying illness of a former classmate’s child and pray for her family. I’m encouraged when I see I’m not the only person who struggles with her job.

    I understand where you and countless other writers are coming from with articles like this – I just don’t see it as being the massive problem you make it out to be.

    • Brenda

      While I think Lindsey Carlson gives us some great things to consider, I also really liked the article you (Melody) provided the link to. I think, just as with most things, we need to find balance. There was a comment on the other article by some guy who said his wife is very much an introvert and is able to “go deeper” with some friends than, say, at a party, and I can 100% relate to that. I also have time online to articulate my thoughts which is something I really struggle with in larger sized gatherings. My brain seems to freeze when I’m talking to groups of people. I have developed some really great relationships with other moms from my kids’ school (public) even though I work. We private message about something or other and all of sudden, we’re friendly when we run into each other at the school. I like that!

      All that said, I really appreciated the article. I want to be really careful I’m not doing things out of the wrong motive. Thanks, Lindsey!

      • Patricia

        Some people find a way to socialize and share online when they have a difficult time doing this face-to-face. Some people are introverts and/or socially awkward. They feel free to post their views and are not constrained by the fear of being judged because of their real-life social image.

        Some people may not be intentionally creating a public relations “perfect” profile online (although many do for career reasons). Many maybe project their highest ideals of how they would like life to be. Many people have high ideals that they aspire to live, but are often difficult. Most of us do not meet our highest ideals, but there is nothing wrong with continuing to have those ideals and try our best to live to them.

    • Kyle Carlson

      The author is clearly not saying social media is all bad. She obviously is using it herself. The point she is making is perhaps clearest in this paragraph:

      “If Real Me is radically different than Online Me, which me is real, and which is the impostor? If I’m failing to demonstrate the same fruit of the Spirit in “real life” as I do online, it’s probably plastic fruit—and I need to be aware of the discrepancy.”

      Is she saying there can be no version of real community online? No (and that’s an argument for another day.). But she IS saying that if your spirituality looks different in real life than it does online, chances are the online version is artificial. The discrepancy between my online (“plastic”) fruit and my real life fruit should alert me to my need for Jesus to close the gap.

      • Melody

        I didn’t say she said all social media is bad. Goodness.

        I just don’t think the problem of “plastic living” is nearly as prevalent as the author (and so many others) seem to think or that the blame for it lies with social media, rather than our own hearts.

        • Molly

          I find that social media affects me the other way – I’m constantly being so real with my reactions online that I find myself having to self-assess spiritually. And that’s a good thing. I am afraid I don’t look like sweetness and light. The opposite is true.

    • Vanessa

      Great article Melody, thanks for sharing. It’s not always plastic fruit in the social media. People can be phony in church too. Brenda is right, it’s about balance.

  • Simeon

    Great post! Being on of those people who will easily prefer the comfort of internet friends, this was a well needed wake-up call to the importance of good, face to face, community!

    Although I think social media as a great way to encourage and be encouraged. I have met many people from different affiliated churches who are now great friends, but as you said, none can beat, “the ones who can drive to your doorstep when you call”

    Well written, convicting, yet gentle and informative. Altogether, wonderful post! Thanks!

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  • Hey look at ME!

    We have an exceptionally fake culture which makes people hyper-focus on themselves. But, there’s the age-old saying, “there’s nothing new under the sun”. Artificially created representations of self and carefully sculpted image have been around as long as written word. And I’m sure there are other kinds of work that can be used in the same way, such as painting, or maybe even building things. We tend to be messed up in the same old ways people have always been. So it’s not just us in the modern world.

    • Keren

      Well said. This is not a “new problem.”

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  • Peyton Jones

    Well done Lindsay. I made the same point in my recent book “Church Zero” and argued that the cyber community is actually a replacement for the authentic. The authentic community that exists in the church was instituted by Jesus and is the only type of interaction that can happen on a deep level with the operational ministry of the Holy Spirit, causing Christ to say, “I’ll be in your midst”. The fake cyber community replacement is only a cheap substitute for what people are truly crying out for, and what the church alone can truly deliver. Of course, the book goes deeper into what first century churches looked like and how that met a need that our audience based churches fail to do.

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  • ShariLee

    You are speaking to ONE audience in this article. I work online from my home all day, every day. I also attend church, and I am the same on and off line because the Holy Spirit is in control of my life. Yes. I make mistakes in both arenas, but I am quick to reconcile them. I am, it is true, an introvert, but I am not anywhere close to the person you are talking about, and I didn’t like reading about her. It sounds judgmental and unforgiving to me. My other site is which focuses on those of us who are running our lives on the Narrow Way to get the prize of the High Calling in Christ Jesus. Why not rewrite this article from a Biblical POV where you are talking about 2Peter 1 type of Christian who is working to achieve Christian Love! Blessings and Love on you and your family, ShariLee

  • Molly

    I have to say that I have a lot of years of real, face to face experience with other Christian women in the much vaunted “local church.” After 23 years of it, I can tell you that I’m pretty much done. Cliques, high school drama, doctrinal pitchforks, and sheer nastiness are pretty much the norm among church ladies. Social media allows me to have a small ministry of encouragement. Too much damage has been done in face to face, or rather, claw to claw “Christian” relationships to recover.

    • Diane

      I hear ya Molly :-/ I have become so weary over the last several years, and have all but given up on having anything even close to a real meaningful friendship amongst the other women in my church. Outwardly I am warm and sociable, quick to pray for and with others, but inwardly I am extremely guarded. Recently though I am wondering if I am right in feeling as I do. I don’t know if you are familiar with the (in)courage online community ( and their yearly (in) Real Life Conference ( I watched many of the sessions this year and was kinda convicted about my own isolation. This line from the above article really stung as well: “Offline Jill seems standoffish and unengaged with her church community.”
      All that to say that, while yes, I do agree that the Lord wants us to be engaged in deep, loving relationships with the other women in our immediate body of believers, I have no desire for them. I am worn out from the effort and the hurt and dealing with all of the dysfunction and toxicity. But if I know that the Lord wants me to have these relationships, then I must put forth the effort… out of sheer obedience if nothing else. sigh.
      So, I’ve accepted the fact that I must work to deepen these relationships, but even though I feel convicted about my sin, I have yet to really do anything to correct it. Maybe we could pray for each other?

  • karin

    This truly points out the traps in social media!

    But, respectfully, you left out more than I would like about the family unit. You mentioned friends being there in person, but you said nothing of the family; Husband, Wife, Children, Brothers, Sisters, or even Parents. These are the people that see us each and every day in the raw. You can’t hide the blow-ups, the painful days, or the dirty laundry from them. Even friends don’t see those things each day.

    So, instead of focusing so much on friends, we should focus on allowing ourselves to grow closer, be encouraged, sharpened, challenged, and held to TRUE daily accountability, by our family members (if we have them). The people that see the real us night-and-day and still love and will be there tomorrow. They will be there before you call them to your doorstep and will forgive you more than a friend ever has reason to.

    Maybe saying “friends” was alluding to family, but it didn’t seem so.

  • David B Severy

    If we are inclined toward honesty, the internet can be helpful. I find I can be as secretive, withdrawn, or as boastful and foolish and even manipulative in person as I can be online. One blessing of the internet for me has the acceleration of Bible study through online forums and Bible software. If we are Christ’s

    1 Corinthians 15:58
    Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

  • John Boulton

    I appreciate and acknowledge the problems Mrs. Carlson mentioned, but I’m not sure we should presume this is always the case. I post a lot on Facebook: from inspirational encouragements to political awareness, from jokes to sad news. On one hand, I find that I oftentimes get more out of Facebook than I do in person because of my hearing loss. This correlates to the reason I enjoy watching DVDs with subtitles far more than TV programs (aside from not seeing much on TV that I care to watch anymore). I miss out a lot of conversation when with a group of people and oftentimes find myself on the outside versus a participant. Facebook allows me more involvement. I can’t help but wonder about many other people with other disabilities that come to similar terms of situations. On the other hand, my wife and I have found ourselves pretty busy with both our elderly fathers drawing more of our time, while we’re also busy with upcoming wedding of our daughter. Facebook is an opportunity to drop in and catch up a bit. It seems silly how some people post every little thing they are doing… filling in the boring gaps I suppose. But I utilize Facebook as a means to get news out to others: gospel news, political news, joys of inspirations, and needs of others, and etc. just as much as I receive it. I don’t doubt in the least that there are people out there like Mrs. Carlson described; but I’d be careful of making a broad assumption that can prove judgmental without walking in one another’s shoes.

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