Monday, August 23, 2010

No Intimacy on the Interwebs

I feel as though there is some irony in this post. I just noticed that I have 31 followers on my blog, some of whom are people I have met along the road of life, others are folk I will probably never know this side of heaven. Either way, they are real people (unless of course I have a band of spam followers), real people with backgrounds, stories, voices, work, hobbies, weekly schedules. Again, with a few of them I am a part of all that stuff, but with most I'm not.

The same goes for many of the other social media outlets I have ventured back into over the past three months. I have nearly 1,900 friends on Facebook; I am climbing toward a whopping 200 followers on The Twitters. In rural Texas or maybe a small town in the 1700s I might be considered a big deal - an important person if you will - with those kinds of stats.

Yet tonight a close friend, a real-life friend who has been verified by my own eyes, hands and ears, told me that he was shutting his fairly successful blog down because he was tired of the Internet culture. The five month hiatus from this very culture was swirling around in the back of my head so forcefully that it cause my head to nod up and down in agreement. I admit that I grew tired once again just reading his text and I was tempted to join him in the ranks of rebellion against the ever-growing trap of the finely woven Interwebs.

The problem I notice with myself and with countless others is our salivation at connectivity combined with our lack of thoughtful engagement on this still youthful platform. For some reason we hold that the same rules apply with the screen as they do in the skin. FB uses the now ubiquitous term "friends," which give some with already stalkerish tendencies the idea that they could just befriend that pretty girl in the random photo, message her, and they will be pals for life...maybe even at some point they will go on a date! Folks who are using Twitter strive to come up with a witty, sticky comment that will be retweeted by followers or @replied. That's the only reason I use it; my influence abounds with the massive following I have. Then there are podcasts, vodcasts, and soon-to-be 3D versions of both!

A saturation has occurred in the exponential growth of Interwebs connectivity and supersaturation is fast approaching. Every bubble bursts and I think the increase in weariness is due to the acknowledgment that we do not receive what we ultimately long for when interacting with other human beings - intimacy. It could be holding a loved one, hanging out with friends at a coffee shop, or the odd form of intimacy found in a loud argument between best friends or spouses.

I wonder when we will all grow tired. I wonder at what point in our lives we realize that the attention of thousands of truly nameless faces will never amount to the acceptance we have with those whose names and faces we know so well. I wonder when I will stop caring about how many wall posts I got on a given day or how many people are actually reading this and commenting. I am tired along with my friend, but bouncing off this is not the answer for me. Balance is.

I see a great platform for the gospel. The Interwebs is a place to begin at least telling the story of our great God and his redeeming project through Christ to restore our intimacy with Him forever. He is the Christ not of a Facebook profile or a Twitter account, not just some person I will friend or follow and never meet, but the Christ of flesh and blood, whose feet walked the very earth he created, whose voice was heard by thousands, whose wounds Thomas touched, and whose ascension the disciples. Through Christ I am not merely these words on a screen or a home video created on my Flip camera; I am an adopted slave, made a son of God, and a co-heir with Christ. I am able to approach the throne of God boldly and confidently and ask for anything. I have God's Spirit within me leading me, guiding me, praying for me. Why should I ever care who I am and how close I am with others in a virtual world when I walk with God everyday in the real one?

This is the closeness we all seek in this world of mostly empty connectivity. I just pray that as we all grow tired of it that we won't simply run to the next latest whisper, whistle or flashing light that promises a life it can never provide, but will instead turn to Christ because he is the only one who can give us freedom from the tangling web and intimacy with God.

By His Grace.

9 comments:

  1. Balance, I think you're on to something, brother.

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  2. Hey Andrew... it's Tara, from UF. I was just recommended your blog a few days ago, and I have to say, I resonated with your remark concerning our "salivation at connectivity combined with our lack of thoughtful engagement." It reminded me of a good little book I read over the summer called Hamlet's Blackberry, in which the author examines the products of connectivity, or too much connectivity today. The author doesn't claim Christ, but he spends a lot of time talking about the longing that really "connected" folks have for something of substantial depth. I think your last couple of paragraphs rather articulately addresses this longing. Thanks for a thoughtful observation. :)

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  3. Willy, thanks for the words. Not sure what the something is, but I'll keep you informed. Hope the wedding plans are going well!

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  4. Hey Tara,
    Great to hear from you! I'm intrigued to know who recommended my blog to you. That is neat. That book sounds interesting...I'll have to check it out if I ever have some free reading time. I appreciate the words. Hope all is well.

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  5. I really like your movement to the gospel from our participation in these Interwebs spaces. Great job exposes the desire to connect and it's true home in a relationship with our creator.

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  6. In last week's version of the NYT magazine, the article "I Tweet, Therefore I Am" looks at the way these social media change our concept of the self and blur the line between who we are versus who we present to others. Here's a snippet from that article that really makes me pause:

    "'On Twitter or Facebook you’re trying to express something real about who you are,' she explained. 'But because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become a performance. Your psychology becomes a performance.' Referring to “The Lonely Crowd,” the landmark description of the transformation of the American character from inner- to outer-directed, Turkle added, 'Twitter is outer-directedness cubed. The fun of Twitter and, I suspect, its draw for millions of people, is its infinite potential for connection, as well as its opportunity for self-expression. I enjoy those things myself. But when every thought is externalized, what becomes of insight? When we reflexively post each feeling, what becomes of reflection? When friends become fans, what happens to intimacy? The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create, and alienates us from our own humanity.'"

    We all enjoy feedback, and so are much more likely to put things on Facebook that people will click the "Like" button on. We want to be witty. We want to post photos that we look good in and "un-tag" the ones we don't. We want to have this online self that is the "real" us but at the same time it is exposed to so many people who don't know us that well we can't help but want to put (only) our best face forward. And that's nothing to be ashamed of. But it makes us forget that the most enjoyable part of connecting with others is in sharing the intimacy of bearing your true self. Warty, witless me.

    We craft and contrive images and words for the consumption of others using social media that we would not use with a friend face-to-face. I have to wonder how much our actual self begins to adjust to this social bias, this sense of others' expectations. And so I think some of us who jumped on Facebook back in 2005 not only lost a sense of what real "friends" are by having 400 on Facebook, but also a sense of our humanity.

    I'm really thinking about changing my online self now. I've done it before. Maybe in so doing I'll help save my actual self.

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