Readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Twitter. Truth be told, Twitter exposes my love/hate relationship with the Internet in general: although I do love the benefits that this technology has brought to the world, I fear how it is remaking culture and our ability to relate to one another. Twitter is simply the most extreme form of this new communications form (currently).
Christianity Today editor Mark Galli has a wonderful article on their site relating technologies like Twitter and the Internet to the Trinity. He writes,
[T]he heart of the Trinity is not fine theological distinctions but a relation of love, a fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, a super-community that is so unified in love that it counts as one being.
The nature of this love overflows—love begets love and even more beings to love. And for some reason, God—who is spirit—nonetheless wishes to make this love a tangible reality in the things he creates. This starts from “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” to “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” to
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:2-3)
The movement of God is toward deeper and deeper incarnation, enfleshment. It appears that the glory of our existence as beings created, redeemed, and blessed by God is a tangible, physical existence, in which we live together and love one another in an embodied way…
And so we come to the age of the Internet. For all its obvious flaws, it does seem to bring people together to communicate, collaborate, and create community. As Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine, waxed eloquent recently, “Communal aspects of digital culture run deep and wide.” He noted Wikipedia as “just one remarkable example of an emerging collectivism,” and also pointed to collaborative sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, the Hype Machine, Twine, Wesabe, and of course Twitter. “Nearly every day,” Kelly concludes, “another startup proudly heralds a new way to harness community action.”
In this essay, Kelly compares the “collectivism” of the internet with classic socialism. Along the way he says things like this:
Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share apps, scripts, and APIs.
It’s at this point that we spot the great weakness of this technology. The type of community that can quickly and easily be fostered on the Internet is a disembodied one, one in which only minds meet, and that works at cross purposes to the movement of God in history.
This reality should be a clear lesson of the hierarchy of human relations: direct, face-to-face, communications between two people is always superior to ethereal communications, such as you experience in email, blogs, twitter, and even the phone (note, for example, that you cannot receive the Sacrament of Confession except in the physical presence of the priest). New forms of communication can be beneficial when face-to-face communications are not possible, but they should never replace them. Yet how many of us have more contact with people across the country than we do with people across the street?
Some would say that the technology is simply neutral and we should not demonize it. Just don’t abuse it, many would say. But anyone who has been involved with the Internet for any length of time knows how addictive it can become. As Galli observes,
Not a few of us find ourselves addicted to email. It is a wonderful thing to be able to connect with so many people so quickly and efficiently. But like many, I often find myself so drawn to my Blackberry and laptop that I fail to be present with the flesh and blood person who is standing before me. I look at them and pretend like I’m listening, but my mind strains to get back to my email. The technology is obviously undermining my ability to be present in an embodied way to the real person in front of me.
We see the same sort of problem with angry emails that are sent because we’re afraid of actually talking the issues through face to face. Or viewing pornography rather than engaging in a deeper relationship with one’s wife.
Our fallen nature appears to gravitate towards poorer forms of communication and interaction – perhaps because they are easier to engage in and can hide difficult aspects of human relationships. Yet these new technologies are no substitute for the Incarnational nature of real face-to-face interaction. As Christians, we need to work in our own lives to ensure that technology doesn’t replace our embodied relationships – they must have priority in our lives.