I’ve been active in some aspects of social media for several years, beginning with a chat room I helped manage for my faith denomination for several years. One of the comments I often got–and still get–is that while chatting with others online is nice and fun, it can’t take the place of “real” community. I disagree.
Yes, I’ve experienced my share of on-the-surface conversations that didn’t really get into anything serious or deep. But I’ve also had the opportunity of sharing in discussions that have been deeper than any face-to-face conversations I’ve ever had…that have touched topics and concerns that I’ve never had to deal with before.
I remember the first time I met some of my online friends for the first time. We were meeting at a restaurant, and as we gathered–wearing our name tags with both our real names and our online names–we were laughing and joking. The waitress asked how long we’d known each other…and was surprised when several of us said that we’d never met, but we’d been friends for years. That just didn’t make sense to her…but it did to us.
I am currently a member of several private groups. Those groups vary in size from just a few members to being quite large. But because they are private, the friends I have in them find them safe places to share…prayer concerns, rants that they can’t share anywhere else, frustrations, joys, questions they need answers to that they don’t feel safe asking anywhere else. We don’t agree on many issues–but that doesn’t keep us from developing a sense of community.
Jean Vanier of L’Arche (an intentional community of peoples of differing abilities) says
“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
In a world that is getting smaller and more inter-connected daily, we must find ways to connect with each other…to become community with and for each other. It’s not easy…but without developing that sense of community, we will not survive.