Technology changes how we think and talk about our world. For example, someone may say to me, “I talked to [so and so] yesterday.” However, they do not mean actually use-of-the-voice talking: they mean “texting,” which is not actually “talking” (neither by definition nor by the historic use of the word).
Recently, someone told me, “The person I was with the other day…” When they said “with” they meant via livestream. Notice how the virtual was used to replace the actual. Our technology changes how we talk because it changes how we think and live.
Gene Veith writes,
“One of the most striking features of contemporary American society is the loss of real-world community, in which we interact with flesh-and-blood human beings, and its replacement with virtual community, in which our interactions are mainly with disembodied individuals and groups on the internet.”Gene Edward Veith Jr., Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, p. 172.
When we “interact” with someone online it isn’t real interaction. There is an exchange of words, but connection and community go far beyond that. There is nuance to face-to-face conversation, empathy, sharing, etc. which cannot be replicated on virtual platforms. We may “feel” that there is connection, but feelings are not reality. Ultimately, there cannot be any significance in online interaction unless there has first been real-world interaction to establish that significance. How do you identify or empathize with a “disembodied” Facebook avatar unless there is a real-world counterpart with whom you have already identified and empathized?
Churches who have moved to online services (virtual church?) have done so for the health benefit of their members. Kudos! However, we should all be wary of believing that “assembling” virtually can ever replace assembling actually. The virtual can never replace the actual.
- We need each other actually in the body of Christ. The benefit of each member to another comes through actual contact.
- We need actual contact to make actual connections with people. There is more to human interaction than words and language, more to church than sitting and listening.
- We need the grounding of the actual to keep us “realistic” (pun intended) in the virtual. Try interacting with people in real life the way you do with some of them online. Tell me how that works out.
This is not to discredit the efforts of churches to stay “connected” with members during a difficult time. My church has used more than online services: those have been supplemented with phone calls and texts from leadership and other members. Obviously, “assembling” online is a temporary, stop-gap measure to get us back to assembling (actually). But these virtual efforts are successful largely because of the real-world connection we actually had before all of this began.
May we come away from this forced isolation with a greater sense of our need for actual human connection in the real world (church and otherwise), and then interact in that real world more than we did before this all started.