Virtual community


Photo Credit: Davey Brown

As someone who started his career working in technology and now works in ministry, I am obviously fascinated at the intersection of these two worlds. Over the last several years I have been particularly fascinated to watch the rise of “virtual community” as the web has evolved into a highly interactive world that affords the opportunity to interact with others. The question is, “Is this community?”

Now before I go on, I need to confess that I am a technology geek at heart. I got my first computer when I was twelve and have never looked back. I blog. I Twitter. I Facebook. I spend hours a day in front of a computer or on my iPhone. But about a year ago, I began to ask myself a simple question, “What are the unintended consequences of the technology you use?” It has led to some important insight and helped me gain some self awareness and draw some personal boundaries.

This question came from a guy named Shane Hipps when I heard him at last year’s Q Conference. In eighteen minutes Shane unpacked some basic principles that he expounds on in his book (The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church), and it rocked my world. If you want the short version, I highly recommend you read his Fermi Short on how electronic culture shapes community.

A couple days ago a friend who went to the National Pastors Conference sent me a link to an interview Shane did with Out of Ur at NPC. He was asked to give his thoughts on virtual community. Here’s the video:

At this point I probably lean toward agreeing with Shane that virtual community isn’t really community as I understand it. That’s not to say there is not value to what happens online or that we can’t or shouldn’t use technology to interact with others. I think the important thing is to ask yourself whether there are consequences to your use of technology that may be unintended. For example, I’ve been asking myself these questions:

  • Do my online interactions lead to more substantive real-world relationships?
  • What effect does my use of technology have on people in my everyday life (e.g. if I text someone or Twitter while in someone else’s presence, how does that affect that relationship)?
  • When I choose to spend time interacting online, what am I choosing to not do?
  • What are the boundaries I need to establish about where, when, and how I will use technology?

How about you? Have you thought about the unintended consequences of technology in your life? What questions do you ask yourself to gauge this?