There was a really good discussion at JesusCreed on the nature of community and the extent to which online community is ‘real’ or ‘true’ community. Scot McKnight offered a valid argument that ‘community’ is a broad term that can certainly encompass an entire range of human interaction. He also rightly calls for an informed discussion that transcends the mere expression of personal preference.
Shane Hipps, however, while recognizing the legitimacy of McKnight’s semantic distinction, contends that ‘community’ is an important word and should really be used to protect the importance of the kind of human interaction that can only take place in face-to-face encounters between persons sharing the same physical space. His key argument is:
I play with semantics in an effort to help us see that “virtual community” and “unmediated community” are not interchangeable things. In my opinion, one is actually better than the other. The reason is that “virtual community” occurs primarily on one frequency of the human experience. It is mostly a disembodied, and largely cognitive, connection. This is not a bad thing, it’s just not as valuable as unmediated community, which involves the entire range of the human experience–physical, non-verbal, intuitive sense, subtle energies, visual cues, acoustic tones, etc. These are extremely powerful things that should not be quickly dismissed as “nice but not necessary.”
What do you think? If we were to have a discussion about this topic through a live video chat, would we have created community? Is there something about human ‘presence’ that cannot be technologically mediated? Or, do you think that it is possible for us to share enough of ourselves through technology to have participated in Christian community? Is it maybe even the case that I can share myself more freely and openly when community is mediated? (Of course, that would raise its own questions about why such freedom and openness might not be experienced in person.) Was Paul in ‘community’ with the churches through his correspondence (cf. Col 2:5)? If so, in what ways and what does this mean for the question at hand?
The question here is really a rather ancient one. What role should technology play in the life of the church moving forward? Whenever there has been a significant technological development, the church has had to wrestle with the question of what to do with it (sometimess less than successfully). And in many ways, how the church has answered this question has shaped its course for generations afterward.