I have a couple thousand “friends” on Facebook, and a few days ago I cyber-smacked one of them over the head like an ugly son-in-law. He had made what I thought was a very snarky, malicious comment about one of my awe-inspiring, earth-shattering posts.
But a day later I discovered it was a huge misunderstanding. I apologized — profusely—and retreated to a corner of the World Wide Web with my foot, mouse, and keyboard in my mouth.
This whole incident, as minor as it turned out to be, is reflective of how we communicate and miscommunicate in the 21st century.
For years I have noticed how people will say things in e-mails that they would never say to someone else’s face (good and bad), and “social networking” sites greatly magnify the effect, an effect now known as “online dis-inhibition.”
We seem to lose our social restraint and our better judgment while hiding behind the pseudo-invisibility of the Internet and the digital airways.
I don’t want to sound like some crazed Luddite who hates technology and pines for the days of the rotary phone or the covered wagon. No way; but neither am I ready to accept all new technologies without some discernment.
While I now recognize the countless alternative ways we can connect with others, I also recognize that we are lonelier and more disconnected than ever. I can see that we are more aware of the world around us than any previous generation, and yet I see that we may be the most narcissistic generation to ever live.
We still need flesh-and-blood relationships, connections that are built upon mutual respect, actual time together, shared interests, and face-to-face conversation. People of faith may have more at stake in this issue than most, because faith fails in a hyper-individualized, self-centered world. Faith needs authentic, unselfish community, not a virtual imitation where people hide behind their avatars.
I don’t know all the answers, but I do know that we cannot share text messages and e-mails, and call these conversations; we would be better served by sharing a cup of coffee and actually communicating with those around us.
I know that if we spent more time looking people in the eyes, rather than through an LED display, the world would be a better place. And I know that we cannot “click” our way to community, because friendships require actual presence, not page counts.