The Illusion of Community, Part 3

November 3, 2008 by

Old School BankThis is part three in a series about the illusion of community. Part one was about online community networks. Part two was about how we’re doing at building community in our weekend gatherings. Today, let’s talk about why community ‘online’ and ‘offline’ might be an old school way to think.

I recently spoke at a conference about online marketing and communication. The audience for this particular event was centered around doing ministry on the web so you can imagine their surprise when I suggested that perhaps they shouldn’t be online in the first place. What if you came to this internet ministry conference to learn that you shouldn’t be doing ministry online? What if your ministry online–or attempt at ministry–is actually a distraction from real world, face-to-face relationship and community?

A gentleman in the back raised his hand and suggested that we stop thinking about online and offline as mutually exclusive terms. The reality, he suggested, is that there is little distinction between the two. The worlds are converging and life online and offline is becoming more synchronous and synonymous. Kids under 10 years old will never understand the difference between having friends (or contacts) online and having them offline. Just like they’ll lack understanding for what it means to do their banking offline or listening to music on CDs.

The Fine Line
Although I agree with his general assessment, I don’t think the conclusion is that we give up and let the lines of community be obliterated between face-to-face relationship and emoticon-to-emoticon relationships. Fast forward that scenario and imagine all relationships being lived virtually (sounds like a sci-fi movie). No way! Where is the emotion, the passion, the intimacy? The reality is that cultivating relationship online should be a supplement–not a substitute–for connecting with others. We must contend for human interaction and the value of living life-on-life. It’s one thing to do away with brick-and-mortar banking and buying music on CDs, but the physical presence of other humans is not something we should be doing away with, regardless of how cool digital holograms are.

Old School
So while it may be a little old school to talk in terms of life ‘online’ and life ‘offline’, we’ve got to do better at establishing healthy patterns for real connectedness with others. If we approach our offline interactions like we do our online interactions, in general, we’d have huge crowds all around us with very shallow relationships. Our friends (contacts) would be connected only to the extent we share interests and buying habits.

I’ll admit I don’t have this figured out. I have a long way to go in developing robust relationships. It’s tempting for me to think that because I have an “online presence” I am connected. The reality is that if I shut off my Internet connection, I’d have a more accurate reflection of my isolation and/or true connectedness.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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5 Responses to “The Illusion of Community, Part 3”

  • Kimberly H
    November 3, 2008

    I recently heard a fascinating webcast about how different generations use the internet differently. Even though I think of myself up-to-date technology-wise at the age of 33, I’m starting to realize that many people 10 years younger than me are using internet very differently. On-line interaction on social networking sites is a part of their daily social interaction. See:
    Their webcast on generational differences really reasonated with me, because it reinforced what I’ve seen recently between how I use the internet and how my new housemate, who is 11 years younger than me, uses the internet.
    Given this generational shift, I wonder if community is viewed differently by different generations, and especially on-line vs. off-line division (or lack thereof).

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  • Darren Chapman
    November 3, 2008

    Hi guys,
    Thanks so much for sharing this idea. It’s good to know people are thinking about real world relationships in light of the recent online developments such as facebook, myspace etc.
    As a pastor I’m trying to keep the balance as much as possible… but you’re right… real world relationships keeps us connected in far deeper ways than any level of online relationship could.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

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  • Henry Zonio
    November 3, 2008

    Online and offline interactions are simply extensions of each other. For those of us who have been surrounded by the reality of the online world for most of our lives, the notion that you would be different online vs. offline is foreign. There is no distinction between the two for those in the 30 and under crowd. Online interactions have simply broadened who we can have relationships with as well as allowing us to keep some sort of connection with people regardless of the level of “friendship” we have with them. Online interactions also increase the global influence some of us have.
    It’s not uncommon for people to be with friends most of the day and then interact with them online via IM or social networks or email the next second. It also is not uncommon for people to begin new relationships with people online and build friendships that way long before meeting in person… if ever.
    It’s a completely different paradigm of relationships and to filter it through a paradigm that existed before the World Wide Web is to misunderstand and misinterpret how relationships are formed and maintained today.

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  • David Jones
    November 4, 2008

    When I read this blog Mathew 10:16 comes to mind.
    “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves”.
    If you are a futurist, it is fine to say that the internet is not where we should be, however this is where the youth is currently at, and its fine to say that we need to be in the living rooms and dens of peoples homes sharing the gospel. I agree with both ideas, in fact for me it goes back to what are you trying to accomplish. sharing the gospel and getting into the minds of the youth, poor, rich, or elderly its all for Gods glory. My biggest problem with this type of conversation is just that…. its conversation. Stop talking about it and go do something!!!! Pick your demo and go after it, be the best you can be at attracting the demo you feel like God has called you to.

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  • Charles Lee
    November 7, 2008

    I don’t think the primary issue here is technology, but rather the person. I recently wrote a blog about this. I use to think that online interaction was “shallow”. Now I this doesn’t have to be the case.

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