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June 29, 2007

Disembodied Community

Following up on Jeff's post . . .Chairs

Ironically, my virtual friend Linc Ashby poses an interesting question over at Common Grounds. He recalls the days of his father and grandfather where they'd meet their friends each morning for a cup of coffee and a chat before starting their workday. Linc then wonders about the shoddy substitutes we call community today: email banter and even (gasp) the blog. He poses the question: can we have or build real community without physical presence? It is is an interesting question. What do you think?

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I think it's easy to hide your true self in a 'virtual' community. Truly, friends can be made and growth (of various kinds: mental, moral, social) experienced. But, even if we're always presenting our honest, heartfelt opinions (etc.) in the virtual community, we only present what we want to present. And I think that's an important aspect of physical community: You can't hide behind a (fire)wall. You can't (easily) choose to ignore someone you are having a disagreement with; you can't (easily) hide the parts of you that are 'unlovely'; you can't (easily) indulge fully in only the things you want to (which, I'm saying, is a good thing - not to be able to do).

Many of the things we are told to emulate (in Scripture) are nearly impossible virtually: Compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, humility, love - these and many others have implicit connotations of action. Words (most of what is in a virtual community) are very... cheap.

I'm thinking of the 'Sword sharpens Sword' analogy. (Yes, this can be applied virtually, but) In our modern, segregated (emotionally, physically), virtual world, we aren't remotely confronted with the requirement to improve. Just think of how hard it is to 'actually live with a roommate or your spouse'. If we presented ourselves or behaved the same way in that relationship as we do virtually, it wouldn't last very long.

As I alluded to above, I don't think virtual communities are impossible, but I don't think they match a 'real' community. Don't know if this makes sense, just my thoughts... don't have time to discuss more.

jason taylor

I respectfully disaggree. I think community is primarily about mind meeting mind. And compassion, kindness, patience, humility, and love toward someone you haven't met is perfectly possible. I have felt it from others at times-in virtual communication.
If physical meeting is more comfortable for some, virtual meeting is less limited. You can meet people from other places, and even times(books are a form of virtual community too).

Jason Taylor

"I respectfully disaggree. I think community is primarily about mind meeting mind."

Oh yes and heart meeting heart. That counts at least as much.

Steve (SBK)

I agree that minds and hearts etc. can meet "virtually" (another e.g.: a penpal), and I can see where you're coming from... I think.

But I think there are varying levels of community and communication. What you're describing sounds to me like sharing common belief, ideas, emotions... etc. There's a large community of Christian believers around the world, united by a common thread. When the early Church Fathers sent letters to the Church, they were writing to the community at large. But this is vastly different from the people, of like mind, that you rub shoulders with. I see no good reason to accept the idea that compassion and kindness and love can be shown to a virtual friend, in the same way it can be shown to a real person in your immediate community. (In some ways, yes, but I'm specifically not talking about emotions or niceness).

I also stand by the idea that we are more ourselves in a non-virtual community because we are less "in control" : of time, of setting, of not showing ONLY what we want others to see.

I also do not accept that books are equal to real community. Their input of course enhances real community (and we can have a common thread with the book's author and other readers). But the same can be said of television: And I don't think this is the same kind of community as a real one.

And also, I think there are limitations to both forms of community (real and virtual). A limitation of virtual communities is that they lack 'incarnation': the imminence and immediacy of other persons requiring the wholeness of your person.

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