Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Online Real?

I’m reading a book The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community and just hit a really interesting section. First, the author (Jesse Rice) quotes Shane Hipps' four components of community:

1. A Shared History
2. A Sense of Permanence
3. Proximity
4. A Shared Imagination for the Future

The question many people are asking now is, Can online “community” meet all of these criteria? Are Facebook Friends and people who follow you on Twitter or IM or text you real friends?

Rice’s response caught my attention:

“Younger generations, as well as an increasing number of people throughout the lifespan, would say relating to the ‘real’ world is not an experience of either ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ quality. It is simply another way of relating. … In other words, for a growing number of people—especially those from younger generations—‘community’ is not understood as a dichotomy between ‘real’ or ‘online’ relationships, but as a composite of both.” (p. 170)

I know in my life, the distinctions are blurring. Some of my closest friends are close because our online interactions have strengthened (and sometimes created) the ‘real.’ And when I attend church online, it may not include everything the live experience contains, but is definitely ‘real.’

I’d really love to get your opinion on this one. Would you consider your online community ‘real’? Is there a line between your online friends and your ‘real’ friends, and has that line blurred over time? And should the church be encouraging online community or simply using it to push people to ‘the real thing’?

(As an follow-up, I asked my two older daughters, 16 & 15, if they had any close friends with which they were not connected online. Both said No. And as I thought about it, I have fewer and fewer close friends with whom I do not share an online connection of some sort, and more and more close friends with whom I am only connected online.)


karan said...

You don't know who is sitting in the chair in front of the puter. Who are my friends on -line are those who know I am in trouble they call me or they come to my home.
When I talk about OUR LORD and I get a message they want to learn more I planted a seed. Is online real? I would say 15% Just because I have 900 friends I only talk to to about 30 peeps. Excluding my Church family in the 15% So I think I am doing good!

Maureen said...

For some of my friends, I probably would never talk to if it wasn't for facebook. They live too far away. I do have a few ONLINE ONLY friends who I feel pretty close with, some closer that those I met in person. Online does make things easier, but also feels not personal enough at times. Friends that I use to call all the time I now only call if I need a answer to a question quickly. Some people I talk to a lot online and feel close to them online, but then when I see them in person I don't know what to say to them. Online communication is good, but did we forget our social skills in person? Why is it I can talk to a stranger all day long online and have major anxiety in person? Are they not the same people in person as they are online?

Kim said...

For me, I am a single Mom with very little time for myself. If it wasn't for my online friends, I would not get to talk to many people. I can talk on line while my daughter is sleeping.

Geoff said...

I'd have to go with real. I have friends I have no online connection with and friends I only know online. I consider both to be real.

Steve Davis said...

Karan, one of the things the book's author said was a key to creating real community online was Intentionality. Sounds like that's what you're doing.

karan said...

Thank you Pastor Steve I have many that don't do the blog. They ask questions I give what GOD has put in my heart. But I think I am down to 10% Hurt my feelings NOT My work is not done yet

Steve Davis said...

I still find it a little awkward when I'm describing someone like Geoff. We've met in person once for about twenty minutes. But we frequently exchange snide Twitter comments and "acquaintance" doesn't capture the relationship. Friend is much closer (though he might use 'stalker'). Not friend like in, 'I'm in town can I stay at your house?' But if I were in Charleston, I'd probably send him a Twitter message 'I'm in town, love to do lunch or coffee if you're free.'

One person responding to this on Facebook pointed out that people used to 'meet' as pen pals and become close friends totally through letters, and no one thought that odd. For some reason, we don't want to extend the same concept to online communication.

Charlene said...

As someone who met her husband online (and was 99% sure we would get married before our first real life date), I am definitely a believer that online can be "real." I've also had awesome discipleship time with a new believer, and we've never met face to face.
I think it's easier to keep it superficial online, but it's become such a huge part of our world that there's no reason it can't be a real tool for communication, either.
Oh, and I did have an online friend who came and stayed at my house (with her two kids) for a weekend before we'd ever met :)

Dan B. said...

As someone who is not online much outside work (maybe 30 minutes a day), I would say that the online can augment the real, and that anything online that would be "real" is the exception and not the rule. Why do we have local bodies of believers that gather together to worship and commit to do "life together?" It's because accountability and discipleship is better implemented and effected through in person contact. If the blogosphere has taught me one thing, it's that (anonymous or not), people can do a lot of things (for ill or good) without much consequence.

So should the church encourage it? I don't know--what is the force behind it? To draw more in? To strengthen discipleship? With the advent of technology, I can be constantly in contact with a "friend" halfway around the world. If anything, it should push folks towards the real thing, since an online friend halfway across the country can't come see me when my life is in shambles and the walls are closing in. Whether we admit it or not, we are a people who need physical contact and physical presence of another.

I'm not saying there cannot in any circumstance be "real" relationships through online contacts, but I would be of the opinion that deeper relationships might be obtained through "real," in person contacts and any online community would be a driver towards more "real" contacts. Otherwise people might begin to think that since the "online" community is easier to deal with (in person relationships are hard and messy!), they would substitute it for the real.

But again, this comes from someone that might check Facebook (I know, *gasp*) once a week. My dear wife (and your sister) may have a different perspective since she has more contact with online folks than I do.

Tom B. said...

I don't have "Online Only" friends. Having said that my friendships tend to start in-person but go mostly online for day-to-day contact. A solid 30/70 split. If I was less resistant to gagets, I'd probably be at 10/90!

Farley/Mendica Family said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Farley/Mendica Family said...

I also met my husband online, and by time we emailed, then texted, then had a 3 hour conversation I already knew he was the one before our first date. I think online relationships are very real. My friends on facebook, although I dont talk to them much I still want to talk to them and catch up considering we are military and move all the time, its nice to have that as well as sharing of what is going on in our lives and pictures, etc.

As for church and online community, I am able to find information by a churches website, the pastor's blog, whatever I can find. You cant imagine how hard it is to move again and again and to need to reestablish a connection with a church.

I am a new christian as well, so still learning, still trying to figure out connections, how to make them, and find those that I can feel that way with. With being a stay at home mom and I guess you would call a professional voluteer in the Army community, I stay busy and when I am not I just want to be home with my family, if there was more people in our church to talk to online about questions and in general to talk to, it would be helpful in my own personal transformation of being a half christian to being a real christian. As you can imagine, I have struggled and not actually ever been all that comfortable, so online friendships are easier beginning for me.

I also agree with Steve, that some folks, no I wouldnt invite to come stay with me, but if we were in same area, I would love to have lunch with them. There are many people out there and different types of friendship, I think an online based friendship should not be seen in a negative light.