The Nature of the Internet
-Rev Melissa Fain-
It still shocks me today. I meet up with someone, and they off-handedly thank me for something I posted online. It's not that I think anything I've personally created hasn't been watched or read. I know it has. It's that what is being watched and read means something to someone.
When I preach a sermon in a church I can immediately see people squirm when I say something uncomfortable. See them perk up when the words are hitting home. Hear their thank you after they've immediately processed my words.
When I teach in any capacity I can immediately know if a group of people have processed the lesson or if they are still not getting it. I have struggled with others to understand a concept. I have celebrated how amazing it is to see that "I get it" face.
All that is lost online. Sure, you like. love, or share, but I have no idea why. Are you just being kind? Did you even see or read? Are you confused and you're too kind to ask questions? Our connection has been broken by the expanse of the world wide web.
That's the nature of the internet. We submit content across multiple platforms, and like a written letter, we are not able to see the initial reaction to our submission.
There are many who are discovering this for the first time. Perhaps email, private messages and the like were for secondary connections or setting up primary connections. When the pandemic hit, all of it went online. Even that two second pause on video conferencing has disconnected us.
I'm going to suggest a couple of ideas as we move forward and move on. I'm not going to suggest these ideas completely upend your ideas about the internet, but I hope, if nothing else, they leave you thinking.
1. Our experiences have been different.
Y'all. I'm just gonna put this out there. The internet is a very selfish place. I don't think many of us are trying to be selfish, it's the natural byproduct of the levels of disconnect. The internet, up until recently, has been a tool for what we want. We want to waste time- go to a social media site. We want that specific item- go to an online store. We want to find out how many species of penguins there are in the world- go to a search engine.
It just makes sense that when we read someone else's words we are adding our own inflection, understanding them from our device, in our own homes. It's really difficult to imagine what someone else reading the same words might be going through. It's also difficult to understand that older generations can't even pull up a video to watch a Zoom worship, and youth can't focus for longer than 5 minutes. (And 5 minutes is a LONG time for them.)
Some of us adjusted years ago, and we have friends online we've never physically met. We've learned how to emote within our words since we cannot hear one another's inflection.
What it comes down to is we are not all in this together. We all come from different situations. Some can comfortably read this while sipping coffee. Meanwhile, there are times all of Fig Tree's mediation's are downloaded all at once overseas. Their situations are diverse- from churches that don't have the means to buy theological books, to churches that are illegal and pulling information from the internet is their only way to learn about Christianity. They will not be comfortable while reading this. Then there are those looking for hope in their own hopeless situation. They live with their abuser.
Being selfless online is extremely difficult, but it is possible. It requires support for the sake of others. It needs empathy.
2. The natural loss of one or more senses.
Dr. William Willimon took part in an interview during the 2020 Festival of Homelitics. made a statement that will stay with me for years. Paraphrasing, he exclaimed: If there was one thing this pandemic taught us is that nothing is better than the real thing!
I got the sentiment, he was mourning the loss of the physical. The missing smells of old hymnals. The way one's voices carries in the sanctuary. The immediate connection of a private conversation. For him, those things are sacred. For others though, those things are dangerous and scary.
The American Church experience has, for the most part, been a selfish enterprise. (I can feel you bristling with that statement. Let me explain.)
Back before the pandemic there were a growing number of people who were wounded by the Church. Some were pastors. Some were congregants. Their wounds were made deeper by this disconnect that kept happening with their stories. I can sum it up with one sentence, "Sure, you're experience was bad, but my experience is good." Basically, all the wounds in the Christian Institution can be healed by ignoring and moving on. If the wounded can't ignore and move on they are ghosted, cancelled or both. It makes the sanctuaries you know and love a very scary place.
That being said, while you might be missing the sense of smells and sounds, someone else is missing their sense of connection. Their connection was lost way before this pandemic hit. Just something to consider.
3. Be intentional about engaging others.
I started this with my shock at discovering my words mean something. It was a reminder that we need to step outside ourselves for a moment and consider what our words would mean to someone else. Raise someone up. Show them they have value. If you say you support what they are doing, show them what that support means. Online community is necessary in this day in age and it begins with us engaging them, not them engaging us.
It also means choosing to leave negativity alone. This one has been extra hard for me, as it's super easy to buy into riot. It's too easy. Instead, step away and find something to support. It's so much harder, but so much more rewarding.
In two weeks I'm going to do a Summer movie series. I'd love some of your suggestions to add to the list!