Further to my previous post, Frank Viola had a guest post recently which talked about the illusory nature of online firendships and their impact on our ability to form relationships. The author of the post is Stephanie Bennett who has written a fair bit about this. Some of the points to come out of her piece are as follows:
- “Today’s mobile media foster a multi-tasking lifestyle that easily leads to a mentality comfortable with fitting people into packed schedules that rarely leave enough room for meaning conversation or quality time together.”
- “While our mobile media create a plethora of new opportunities that allow us to use language in many creative ways, they are also changing our perception and experience of the relationships we hold so dear.”
- “As we become more accustomed to giving partial attention to people, we lose the important focus necessary to truly connect and commune with them.”
- “Along with multi-tasking our relationships, several other unexpected challenges arise. As dependence upon our personal mobile media for friendship and fellowship becomes entrenched in everyday experience, one main challenge is in dealing with something we might call a hyper-knowing of others. This is that tendency to be much more open with those we don’t live with – sharing personal (and increasingly private) information about ourselves with those whom we have no primary responsibility or actual embodied experience. When this happens, people often feel they are closer to their distant online friends than they are to the people around them. The main problem here is that the online friendship is mostly illusional.”
- “Words are magnificent gifts given by God to help human beings make meaning, but words are not sufficient without action to back them up. Too easily, words alone mask our real needs and motivations. The thing is – masks must be removed for intimacy to grow and it is life together that has the greatest potential to reveal who we really are and all that we can be. Fellowship is face-to-face settings has much greater worth to accomplish the work of the transformation of our souls.”
And perhaps the quote that says it all:
- “These are no substitutes for truth and reality. Our Father thought human presence significant enough to send Jesus the Christ in the flesh. He could have sent a message in a bottle, but chose the incarnation instead.”
My dad – who is in his 80s – said some time ago that we’re living all wrong. What he meant was that the fact that we’re so often too busy to develop quality relationships reveals that something fundamental to our human existence is missing. I also remember the words of John Smith some years ago when he said that those who substitute meeting face-to-face with other believers for an online ‘church’ experience and call it ‘church’ are deceiving themselves.
Church is community with all its beauty, creativity, and support, but also with all its tensions, sadnesses and conflicts. As Dave Andrews has said, community is somewhere where there is always someone you don’t want to be around! That’s why it’s so crucial for our formation as humans. If we want real community to work, it forces us to grow into more compassionate and merciful people. It teaches us to really love, just like a healthy marriage does.
Just like in my previous post, I need to strongly emphasise that Stephanie’s post mentions a heck of alot of benefits of online communication. Like alot of things in life, the internet in itself is neither good nor bad; it is morally neutral. But also like alot of things in life, things that are morally neutral can be used to great detriment. The challenge for us is to make the most of the huge benefits of online communication without becoming slaves to it. The latter makes us less human.