Doing Church in a Digital Age, Part 4--Community

My brief foray into Facebook (it feels like it's now almost over, frankly) was revealing. It taught me many things: 1) it revealed I'm middle-aged (I saw pictures of my high school classmates and said to myself, "Who are these old people?!", only to realize they're most likely saying the same about me! Yikes! Where do the years go?); and 2) the Facebook function that yields recent updates from "friends'" on what they're doing has shown me, in some cases, that I may know what they had for breakfast with their kids, but I don't know where they're living, to whom they're married, or what they've been up to since we last connected in high school or college!

Thanks to our digital age, I now have more information about more "friends" but less contact and real-world connection to them to give me context for this information. If we communicate, it's likely "wall-to-wall" or maybe a message or an email but that's usually it. It raises for me this week's question about "Doing Church in a Digital Age--Community." In what ways does the internet culture foster community and in what ways does it hinder it? (By community, I mean a close web of supportive, nurturing relationships that meets mutual social and personal needs.) Is our virtual community making us broader but not deeper, relationally? Granted, for those relationships we're already in, a quick text, email, or IM can further dialog, keep us connected, brief us on the latest. But what of those Facebook "friends"? Or, as is the case in some virtual relationships, does instant and constant access electronically raise--or give the illusion of--expectations for actual relationship we cannot realistically meet?

My hunch is that electronic communication can be helpful if it's built on a foundation of historic, actual relationship. If we know one another well enough in real life, that is, if we understand nuances of history, humor, personal detail, etc about each other, then "140 characters" or less can be a fine way of staying in touch, at least superficially. Virtual relationship can augment, but not create, actual relationship. That's my opinion at the moment. But I'm open to correction. What say ye?

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