Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Virtual Friendship?

Let’s begin with a reasonable and safe prediction: you are not likely to finish reading this blog. That is not merely because of the content (though I concede it doesn’t help). It is based on reliable statistics that indicate how attention spans have shortened.

It may be an exaggeration to suggest, as the “Atlantic Monthly” provocatively proposed a few months ago, that Google is making America stupid. But the internet giant and it’s coconspirators, are rendering us more restless and as in the tile of Maggie Jackson’s recent book, distracted. Multitasking has fragmented our thinking, and moments of reflection are punctured by the urgent text message. Concentration drifts after a few paragraphs (or sentences), and we have lost the art of deep and thoughtful reading.

I have a “friend” who has 1,035 Facebook friends. By Facebook standards, that is probably unremarkable. At the same time of course, it is also a lie! Friendship is humanly impossible on such a mass scale. Those who are really close to you wonder why they learned of your mothers death or some other serious event from your Twitter that instantly informed untold masses.

I myself have accumulated more than I can handle, a quarter of whom I have never met. On at least a couple of occasions I have confirmed a friendship with a perfect stranger fully convinced the person was somebody else. We call them friends but lets be honest, the friends on Facebook are not people we would be ready to donate a kidney to. The paradox is that it links us to people far away while it separates us from whom we are the closest. We are increasingly isolated even when we make the false boast that we have overcome time and distance and “reconnected”.

Even some churches have reached out on Facebook, recording their services, people log on and watch the videos and somehow convince themselves that they are attending a church. but church, to the surprise of some, is not someplace you go or even someplace you watch. The church is God’s assembled people in reality and not in some virtual world where we are more often than not disconnected with reality.

Even the more popular today than it ever was “e mail” has become at times “e conflict”. Hardly anyone who has ever used e mail has escaped someone taking something you wrote the wrong way because there was no facial expression or verbal coaching of the comment into its proper context. Is it any wonder, that our Lord in Matthew 18 commands reconciliation through direct, face to face engagement?

Virtual pet stores, virtual zoos, virtual farms and flower shops. The virtual sending of hearts and kisses. It all tends to alienate us from what is really going on in the real world with real people. The time that we spend on such things leaves far less time for us to interact and engage genuine friends who are few and far between and extremely rare to come by. When one is spending more time in the virtual world than say in Gods word we can see the effect this will eventually have on the church at large.

I do not wish to imply that there are not legitimate uses of social networking. I recently started a Facebook page for my church, I have one of my own and of course I have this blog. I think that actually goes to prove my point. As with everything, moderation is the key. Our challenge is to reckon the multitasking, split screen, ring tone culture we are immersed in and “reconnect” with flesh and blood “friends”. You’ve already made a small step by getting through this blog. Now go and call someone, invite someone to dinner, or just drop by for a visit. Oh, and remember the sunglasses and sun screen. It’s probably been a while since you’ve been outside.