Sunday, March 15, 2009

Connectivity

I did not realize until today that it had been three weeks since I last wrote a blog post. Granted, this doesn't mean I haven't been online. I have been keeping track of the controversy regarding Exodus' involvement in a conference in Uganda and Alan Chambers' rather misguided comments about spinsters living together. I just haven't felt too much need to write a post about either, especially when so many other fantastic bloggers have been.

In general, I am finding that the Internet -- and blogging in particular -- is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I have encountered great and encouraging people whose stories and words of wisdom have greatly affected my life. Even better, I have been able to interact with these folks. It's not like I'm just reading an editorial column or a novel. I can do more than just write a letter and hope that I get a response. I can comment and argue with the author right then and there. In some cases, I can chat with them and e-mail personally, and it makes for a rather unique connection with an individual whom, unlike most people I know in the offline world, I did not go to school with, live with, or work with.

The downside is that I say I "know" the folks that I've built online connections with, but I'm not quite sure I do. People who have made these kinds of connections with me are probably aware that I am rather mistrustful of online friendships, despite being in several. Part of this has to do with the obvious difficulties of getting across tone and authenticity through writing, which is a skill that most people don't even have really in part (and I include myself in that). Another part of it has to do with my perceived necessity to see, touch, and hear someone in order to say I've built a relationship with them. Even though the readers of my blog know more about me objectively (in terms of my views and experiences), I just have a feeling that if they just had a twenty-minute conversation with me over coffee, they would know so much more even if I couldn't get into all the hard details.

That being said, I think an online connection with another person can be a valuable relationship, but it has to be approached in a different manner than a regular friendship. What this manner entails, I'm not quite sure. I do think that it's awesome that I've met so many diverse individuals. Where else would an extremely conservative Christian single mom from San Diego and a gay atheist from Ireland talk to me at once? But I also think that it would be better if I could sit down with individuals like this and have our arguments in person. After all, anonymity makes people bolder, and respect and grace are often lost in the competition to prove oneself correct. I am far too guilty of this myself.

So what do you guys think of this relatively recent phenomenon of online connectivity? I'm looking at it from a particularly Christian perspective, because I'm not sure how one can experience fellowship with folks online. But I'd be interested just to hear what anyone who has made friends over the Internet has to say.

12 comments:

otrolado said...

Hmmm. Interesting post. I will start by saying I feel I've made friends online and I call them "friends" when talking to other people offline. However, I don't think of myself as having "met" them. It's odd. A part of me wonders if the idea of someone I have in my head (based on our online/written interaction) matches who they truly are.

I'll also add that two of my really good friends in real life were two people I first interacted with on Xanga. It was quite strange and I am glad that our offline relationships turned out to be so good.

Interacting solely in the online world can contribute to the habit of creating an "other" whose personality/beliefs/thoughts you can sum up more easily than if you meet them in person. With in person interaction you see their humanity more and realize there's a lot more to the story than you may have first imagined.

All that said, I think you can make great connections online. I would just use caution in ever stating you "know" someone until you meet them in person. Of course, saying you really "know" anyone is a bit of a stretch. We all have our hidden selves.

I hope this comment was somewhat interesting!

Joshua Cookingham said...

First off....YOU STOLE MY POST ON MY BLOG!!!!!

lol, just kidding.

I agree with you all the way Jay, Online friendships are fun and often rewarding. But so much can get confusing or misinterpreted. It's much better to have face-to face dialogue.

Nice post. God bless!

Glenn Houtchens said...

An interesting article. While the net allows others to interact more freely, being able to meet and talk (virtually) and correspond with them, on the other hand it can lead one to a misguided sense of community.

Yes, there are those I have prayed for and with, and without the net this would not have been possible. (I am speaking here of my Christian friends on Second Life.) However, there is a drawback for those who are reclusive introverts, such as myself. One can easily replace real life socialization and interaction with a virtual one.

I suppose the same can be said of extroverts, getting attention in an unhealthy way, if the online socialization becomes too preeminent in ones life. The same can be said for nearly anything anything.

Our common enemy seeks to twist good things to the detriment of us all, while we remain unaware. May God grant us the wisdom to see clearly.

G.Houtchens

TRiG said...

Ooh! I get a mention. Exciting.

My home on the Internet is h2g2, where I am TRiG_Ireland. I've been hanging around h2g2 for years now. In May, I'm travelling to London for my first meeting with some of these people.

When I was given some responsibility at h2g2 (I was made a curator, able to edit the encyclopaedic articles on h2g2) I was absolutely chuffed. It meant a lot to me. And yes, I do regard people I've met there as friends.

In the "blogosphere" I perhaps feel less of a sense of community, and am willing to be more combative. I know I've been rather argumentative here. I know there is a blogging community. I've seen the same names in the comments on many different blogs. And I came to College Jay from a link on Ex-Gay Watch to your post "Now What". But somehow I don't really feel that. Perhaps it's because h2g2 has in-jokes, and the blogs generally don't.

TRiG.

naturgesetz said...

I like to think of blogging a both ministry and a form of friendship. I try to show the love of Jesus to people who are hurting, to counteract the negative image of church with many have. I also try to present the case for celibacy in contexts where it seems useful — or at least to say that I think there is a good case for it.

More generally, the thought has occurred to me that if some of the people with whom I have been friendly on line were to meet me, we might not like each other. By subtracting parts of our personalities from the relationship, the internet allows virtual friendships where real-life ones could not exist.

Brandon said...

I've felt a lot like you, Jay. There's been so many times I wish I could see, hear, and touch people who I've met online--just to experience knowing them in person (yourself included). But I realize, as you said, being online can make a person bolder, and perhaps somewhat different from in real-life. If we met in person, I'd have trouble saying to you the very things I'm writing now. Mostly because I'm a terrible speaker--I think I flub up just about every other word that comes out of my mouth. And I do tend to shy away, or keep reserved a bit more in real life situations than when writing online. So, really, you'd probably know me better in some ways (at least concerning what I think and how I feel) because of knowing me online and for what I write than you would otherwise.

As for myself, two of the best friends I've ever known have been formed online. I've never met either guy in person, but I've known them for about two years now and from what we've written and shared with each other I can literally say that I feel as though I do know them, and I love them both.

I often think back to the first time I ever wrote to one of them. I thought long and hard about it because I wasn't sure I'd be able to trust them. But now, to look back, I thank God that he gave me the courage to reach out to them and trust them enough to share a bit of my life with them. I got one of my best friends because of that. The other one happened the same way.

But even after saying all this, I will say that I agree, being able to see people in person is often much more better. There's more to experience with a person that way.

Interesting post. :)

Jay said...

Thanks for the interesting perspectives and comments, everyone!

RikFleming said...

I think I use the word "friend" a little more narrowly than say, Facebook. (Yes, I am getting into that whole "define your terms" stuff here).

My co-workers who I see everyday, who I know much about (often times T.M.I. !!!) are not my friends. They are my associates and acquaintances. We celebrate each other's birthday at lunch but we're not together because we CHOSE to have our relationship, we just happen to work at the same place and we try to get along and cooperate because it is to our mutual advantage. But if I was offered a better job I'd leave in a heartbeat.

Then there are people at church whom I love dearly, they are brothers and sisters in Christ but I don't know them very well only because we don't live in the same neighborhood and don't interact much. They are Christian acquaintances.

Then there are Christians who I know very well, interact with them frequently and they are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. "Friends" doesn't seem strong enough of a word, they are more like family. So I tend to refer to them as my "dearest friends."

So, like you I have made some connections with a few guys via the net and I have only met one of them, briefly. Are they friends? I suppose I feel like they are more like distant cousins that you only see on the holidays (maybe) but you write to them once in a while. I pray for these guys and care much about them (this includes you dude!) but it hard to have a personal bond in this type of "connection."

Love ya man!

Rik

Rachael Starke said...

Speaking as Christian mom who is pretty regularly at home with young kids who still speak in single syllables, the Christian "blog world" is both a great blessing and a potential curse. It gives me a way to interact with other who love Jesus from all walks of life and geographies- people like you that until Heaven I might never meet. But because we both know Jesus and have His Spirit indwelling us, we really are family. Consequently, we can be an encouragement to eachother, and occasionally even gently prod eachother in a more Godward direction. All without having to take a shower or change out of our PJs! :)

But on the other hand, Internet friendships, in my opinion, are still only a secondary means of grace. There is nothing that can replace life on life, sacrificial love and service and friendship with those in our local church family. ALL of them, even the ones that aren't the same age or seem kind of weird. :) If they love Jesus, they're family. And that must always take priority over Internet interaction. You can't make a meal, or babysit a child, or offer a shoulder to cry on, "virtually".

MR said...

Rik,

Wow, am I the only internet friend you ever met in person? I drove last year all over the country multiple times, so I guess I had more opportunities than most people do. I think I met at least 4 virtual friends in person. To me that actually made a big difference in helping me feel more connected.

Jay,

You have been a support and a help in ways my real life friends have not. Maybe that is precisely BECAUSE you are more direct and forceful online.

Christopher Lake said...

I resonate with Rachael's comment. My physical disability sometimes provides a challenge for me, in terms of being as "mobile" as other people and being able to be out "in life" as much (especially because my disability prevents me from driving).

At times in the past, I know that I have relied too much on friendships and even relationships formed over the internet. They are not altogether bad, and some have even been very helpful, but at the very least, I will never attempt a "relationship" over the internet again (unless she lives in my state, within daily driving distance, *perhaps*).

In 2007, I moved from the suburbs of D.C. to Albuquerque, New Mexico to marry a woman with whom I had formed a relationship and to whom I had proposed. We had already spent time together in person and met each other's families, so I wasn't walking in blind, so to speak. However, for various reasons, some of which were my fault, after I moved out here, we broke up.

Subsequently, I have tried to make a life for myself out here in Albuquerque and have had some great experiences, but ultimately, it hasn't worked out, and I'm now trying to work out a way to move back to D.C. I have learned this: You simply can't *deeply know* a person, at least well enough for marriage, if the relationship has primarily been conducted on-line and over the phone. Many will disagree, but that is, at least, the truth of my difficult experience.

Moreover, in the last year or so, I have just felt a need for deeper, daily Christian community, and I firmly believe that God means for that to happen (normatively) *face-to-face.* There is nothing else like actually having real times of fellowship with fellow Christians in their physical presence. (Even with my internet connections, I have always believed in being a close part of a local church-- as in meaningful membership.)

One last thought (sorry for the dissertation!)-- I have found many opportunities to share the Gospel with non-Christians over the internet. This has been a true blessing. However, I must be careful that such on-line witnessing never *replaces* my witnessing to the non-Christians in my community-- and at times, that has been the case. I am currently repenting of that sinful tendency.

Marc said...

Internet connectivity is great, but there just isn't a substitute for time spent with a friend in a coffee shop.