The internet kills community! Except when it doesn't.

February 27, 2012

Two articles crossed my screen recently about the Internet and its effect on community. First:

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered… Online — Sojourners

My editor passed along this link in response to some of stuff I wrote in Sabbath in the Suburbs
about my experience taking a tech Sabbath each weekend. The article
describes a very vibrant, supportive community that formed via Facebook
in the wake of a friend’s death in Iraq.

I noted that there was a physical dimension to the community—it did
not take place solely online; in fact the author actually moved so she
could live closer to several community members. Certainly there are
online communities that get along and get deep without ever meeting face
to face… but most of the ones I’ve been a part of are either physical
friendships that are kindled and stoked online, or online friendships
that deepen to the point that people want to meet face to face. Examples
of the former include my group of friends from Rice, who have had an
e-mail list for going on 20 years now. Examples of the latter include
the RevGalBlogPals and the Young Clergy Women, both of whom have annual
conferences now.

~

Second is this article about digital Sabbath that my mother sent me:

We Don’t Need a Digital Sabbath; We Need More Time — Atlantic

The blurb summarizing the article says, What if our technology isn’t the problem? A look at “Digital Sabbaths” and the dangers of holding our gadgets responsible.

But the article isn’t really about that. I thought from that
description that the article would pooh-pooh tech sabbaths, but in fact
it’s a fairly good synopsis of the ins and outs of them. Here is the
vital bit:

When we make a Sabbath and push back against the many
claims on our time, we are, in some ways, rebelling against this
speed-up and the intrusion of work and labor into our domestic sphere…

It’s for all these reasons that a Sabbath, digital or otherwise, can
be reinvigorating. When we take a day away from our tools and create a
day entirely under our own control, we create that “palace in time”
where we can meet our friends and family and, finally, connect.

If one concedes the point that a Sabbath for restorative reasons need
not proscribe technology, it may seem pointless to argue against the
digital sabbath. What’s the harm?

The reason is that if we allow ourselves to blame the
technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our
communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We
absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure,
technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of
relationships we want with the people around us.
We need to
realize that at the core of our desire for a Sabbath isn’t a need to
escape the blinking screens of our electronic world, but the ways that
work and other obligations have intruded upon our lives and our
relationships.

I think that’s a little facile, and this issue of “blaming the
technology” is strange. Yes, putting away the phones and iPads isn’t
enough to make a radical change in one’s life and world. But I’m almost
willing to say that radical change is impossible without putting them away now and then.

I think about this from an incarnational point of view, which comes from my faith tradition: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Technology,
by and large, connects us with people across the miles (which is
valuable) but it distracts us from the physical world immediately around
us. Setting aside these gadgets is the first step to reconnecting with
the real fleshy people right there with us.

Originally posted at The Blue Room