Monday, September 25, 2006

Empty Space

“Call it a hobby. Call it an obsession. Call it the new way of socializing in the networked world … Call it “friending,” the way millions of teens and young adults obsessed with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are making connections … Friendship always has been a tricky game, especially for teens. But in the past it was played out in school hallways, on playgrounds and in late-night phone calls. … These days it is happening in full color on the computer screen … “

On-line “relationships” are trendy these days. MySpace is the place to be – so much so that, according to psychologist Susan Lipkins, teenagers now judge their social status by the number of “friends” they can claim on their buddy lists. Those with short lists are considered social rejects and suffer with self-esteem issues because they are judged by the number of friends they can collect.

The news media focuses on the dangerous perversions that have arisen from such social networks. In fact, the same issue of USA Today in which the article quoted above appeared also contained the story of former Department of Homeland Security higher-up who used his online access to send pornographic pictures of himself and brag about his high-powered government position, in an attempt to arrange an illicit liaison with a 14-year old girl.

No doubt the anonymous nature of these social networks can be dangerous – but why? Why does anonymity lead to perversion and trouble?

I would contend that the root of the problem lies in the fact that, while an on-line relationship may be a “fun” way to share information and even discuss shared interests, it is not really a “relationship” at all. At its root, it is not based in ultimate reality because it condones the absence a crucial aspect of what constitutes our humanity -- the social context.

Sharing information is not all there is to a relationship. Modern technology allows us to view information with stunning detail and an authoritative presentation that implies credibility where there may be none – and interpersonal communication where none really exists. The ubiquity of such information, and effortless access to it, has shrunk our world to the point that we can “experience” nearly anything we desire without ever leaving our desk.

We can: shop for supplies, sell our possessions, buy products that arrive at our doorsteps within hours, contribute to charitable causes, earn college diplomas, carry on conversations stripped of body language, make “friends,” destroy our marriages and families by falling in love and arranging sexual liaisons; all without any form of actual human contact. This ability is not just unique to our time, and not just possible because of technology, it is a capacity that would never have been conceivable without it. And it is completely antithetical to the Biblical concept of a properly functioning human person.

Within the doctrine of the Trinity, and as consummated on the day Adam received his helper, the social dimension of the person is unique to our design. Yet the Internet allows us to bypass it at our will. Anonymity not only shuns accountability, it permits both an unchecked retreat into the dark corners of the corrupted human self, and the denial of reality concerning personhood. The Internet cannot be solely blamed for the tendency of man to withdraw into himself, but it is a devastatingly proficient modern vehicle for accelerating that inclination. Marriages, families and congregations of believers all suffer from the damaging effects of a technology driven mindset that cultivates an injured and isolated human soul.

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