The internet is a funny thing. It makes that of our imaginations real; it shrinks distances to the length of a fingertip. It makes contact wildly easy, and true intimacy easy to forget. It makes careers and whole industries, and occasionally it destroys them. It breeds a kind of pseudo-anonymity that makes it easy to forget that the whole world is watching and that that world is composed of real people with real feelings and real faces. Years ago, chat rooms and email lists pioneered new language to describe the unbearably cruel barbs that became surprisingly common: flames, flame wars, flaming. And then the beginnings of a cure: emoticons (sideways smilies made with punctuation marks), which give us a shadow of facial cues to go with our language. We can smile, wink, laugh, stick out our tongues, even put on sunglasses for a cool look. They help. We also learned, in the early days of email, to keep the emotional conversations off the computer as much as possible. When things get tough the best course is to get together as soon as you can.
For a geographically dispersed congregation like ours, scattered across at least five different regions and many more communities, technology can be an incredible grace. We can email, social-network, even video chat our way into a kind of daily intimacy formerly only available to next-door neighbors. We are working on developing our online presence: website, Facebook page, sermon podcasts, and more. If we use these tools wisely, they can build exactly the kind of strength we need in our community; if we forget that we are people talking to people, if we forget appropriate boundaries, if we use them for hard conversations instead of for scheduling the hard conversations, if we let them depersonalize us, then we are in trouble.
But we can’t let fear of a conflict keep us from connection. These tools could have been custom-made for us. The technology has matured at last, and we are in exactly the right place to reap the benefits: very much wanting to know each other better, and too busy and dispersed to get together twice a week for coffee. We literally have the technology. Let’s use it.