I woke up this morning thinking about the connection between technology and relationships. Weird I know. I must have had some unconsious musings in my dreams. Last week I posted Coffee Shop Wi-Fi: Community Building or Isolation Making? as a reflection on some of the things that Brent Thomas got me thinking about in his post, Welcome to the Global Ghost Town.
This is not a totally thought through idea, but something I am in the process of thinking about. And that is that online communities lack a certain kind of relational investment that is important for relationships to thrive. For example, how much is really involved in sending emails and comments back and forth with someone you have never met, but with whom you read their blog or interact in a chat room? You are communicating via technology, but what have you really invested? It seems to produce more of a consumer relational mentality, so that when a disagreement happens, or we don’t like what others say, there really is no committment to hang in there and work things through. Why? Because there is no initial relational investment.
And let me say that I speak as someone who loves technology and online communities, etc. But at the same time I want to be able to critique where I think it falls short.
Before I ramble more, this is what led me down this line of thinking. I am currently taking an MFT class called Divorce and Reconstituted Families. And in the process of this class we have been talking about the “divorce culture” and how much easier it is for people to often get divorced when they have not relationally invested themselves in the lives of other couples who they can “share life with” (i.e., be in a small group with, be honest with, etc.). And if another couple has not invested in them as well, then it is easier to act individually, rather than seek out the wise counsel of others.
Divorce is a whole different topic, but it led me to think more about technology and the lack of relational investment that is required by it. So I can continue to blog, join groups such as My Space & Facebook, email other bloggers, share ideas, etc., but at the end of the day, I have not really put myself in a position to invest relationally in the lives of others, nor have I allowed others to invest in my life. At the end of the day if we have no relational investment in those that we share online community with, then what is it that will keep us together, working through issues and discussing important things? At the end of the day (and not to make light of divorce) we will just end up divorcing ourselves from bloggers we disagree with or dislike, because that’s easier to do without the relational investment. And at the same time that keeps us from really doing the hardwork in relationships that is necessary if there is to be growth…even if it is online.
So how do we invest ourselves in the lives of others when all we know of each other is online? And is that even possible?
I struggle with this. More and more of our college ministry is interacting online. More and more of our college ministry does everything via email. More and more of our college ministry text messages now rather than place phone calls. So how do we keep a relational ministry growing and thriving and connecting when sometimes such impersonal means are used for various things?