Monday, June 25, 2012

Online or Real Community

Okay. I admit. I am a stalker. Well, a cyber-stalker. Wait, this sounds so bad. Okay, I am reading a lot of what The Geek Preacher is writing. There, that sounds less likely to result in an interview before Church and Ministry.

He can be found at

 What's not to like. A preacher who is a gamer, a Gen Con attendee, and he speaks geek. Gotta love it. And in his latest blog he quotes Spyder Robinson. Granted I haven't read Robinson since college, but it does bring back memories.

 You can find this blog entry here. The most important thing, however, is not the quote from Robinson, but the ideas that he gets to regarding online "Community." It is worth reading the geekpreacher's blog entry, plus the entry by his seminary professor which he quotes and ultimately refutes, found here.

Two relevant quotes from Dr. Thompson:
Real community is something that happens ‘in the flesh,’ and it involves complicated relationships that must be navigated with care, sensitivity, and ultimately love. Twitter doesn’t require any of this. Nor does Facebook. Nor does this website, for that matter. They’re all forms of so-called “social media,” but the form of sociality they allow is virtual. It is not embodied, and because of that it can never arise to anything other than the level of the thinly social from my point of view.
All that said, I’m giving it a shot (just as I gave blogging a shot, and Facebook a shot, etc.). It has its place, and it can be useful so long as we don’t kid ourselves into thinking that it can take the place of real, authentic forms of community.
The Geek Preacher's response is to say that part of what makes "virtual" community a real community is the realization that there is indeed a person there. He writes:
I have been building online relationships for roughly 15 or more years and I have seen it at its best as well as at its worst. The key to it all is knowing that the person on the other side of the screen is a real human being. You do need to have some type of contact and many people need an assurance that something genuine is occurring. This is why much of my life is lived online. This is also why I speak at conventions and make myself available wherever I go. I’m trying my best to live out the life of the Gospel but it is also important that people realize I am legit. Yeah, that’s the word…..legitimacy. This is what people are looking for in online relationships and, yes, online communities. (original author's emphasis)
Last year, when the Mrs. and I were at the hospital for Lil Bit's surgery, we stayed in touch with family and friends around the world via Facebook. The responses and "likes" that my posts received often resulted in tears, laughter or both. I knew the responders, I could picture them from previous meetings, I could hear their voices, and I could marvel at the level of connection that made itself known via typing on a phone from a waiting room at a large metropolitan hospital. Their care was real. Their prayers were felt. Their hugs, while virtual, offered solace. They just happened to not be in the room with us.

 If virtual community is all we have, then we miss some very important, embodied, incarnated, physical elements of our relationships. Virtual community often suffers from miscommunication caused by lack of tone of voice, body language, or other cues and clues. But virtual community has an important role to play in the various and strange ways that we relate to one another.

 As a soldier stationed around the world said in a recent NPR discussion said, "I don't know how my grandfather did it in World War 2. His letter home took six weeks, and the reply took six weeks. That's a month and a half to receive an answer to a question." He went on to describe Skyping when he got off duty to try and keep up with his wife and children.

 Virtual community does not solve the problems of community, and adds some complexity to it. But it is here, and it can be necessary. And in my experience, it was a net of care and compassion that helped me through some of the toughest days I have faced.

 As always, your mileage may vary.

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