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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Internet Friends

First, a couple funny images:

I read blogs via Google Reader, and use hotkeys to get through the posts faster. But sometimes my fingers hit the wrong keys and I start typing instead. This is what I looked up to see this morning:


NOM link here

And, for as smooth as everything went yesterday, there were a few minutes where Sonlight's homepage looked like this:


10am MST April 1, 2009


Now that we've had our giggles, time to move on to the second--and real--point of this post:

I read yesterday that online communities must be small because "[t]rue community only thrives when the members deeply care for one another." There are many other fascinating points, and so I suggest you read the whole thing.

It got me thinking, though. Granted, I'm not close to all the bloggers I read, but I'd like to think that I have already established very close connection to at least a couple of my "bloggy friends." And considering I attended the wedding of a friend I met via World of Warcraft, and more and more people are meeting their soulmate online, I think this online community has brought us to a very real dimension of connection... even if it isn't IRL.

The Sonlight Forums are a prime example of a rather large online community. And maybe this community thrives on the deep care each member has for homeschooling rather than each other. And so like many other clubs and gatherings, an online community is built around focus, purpose, or interest.

Churches come to mind.

As much as I should deeply care about all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, there's no way I could. But I still gather with them every week in church. And we have community. I have a much closer community with my small groups and friends, but there is community with the other members of my church.

Or, perhaps, I'm just a child of this digital age, and so can't remember the "good old days" when people really did have communities.

So, what do you think, friends?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

15 comments:

5intow said...

I agree that the sense of community can exist in a larger community, and one that doesn't even meet face to face. We've come a long way from the Little House on the Prairie days, but we still connect.

While I sometimes envy the simplicity and relational dependence of those days, I have found friendship and encouragement from people I have never met. While also living in a neighborhood where it is still not uncommon to run next door for a cup of sugar or a couple eggs.

Also, we attend a very large church that I sometimes compare to a sporting event. We're all there cheering on the same team (Our triune, Holy God), but don't necessarily know much about many of the other people that we cheer along with, aside from some of the fellow "season ticket holders."

Small groups do provide the relational connectedness and accountability that are also a part of the Christian life, but I still enjoy being a part of that large group united in purpose and focus.

Community can definitely have a broad definition and a variety of faces.

Thanks for the thought prompts,
Erin

Wardeh @ Such Treasures said...

The online communities of which I am a part have become part of my home life. This seems impossible but it is true. My daily life mixes with my online interaction and vice versa.

And then I think that all through college, I never once sent an email and only used a computer to type up papers. Hey, my high school typing class utilized typewriters!

I would not say I am a child of the digital age. I am a grown-up of the digital age and can hardly believe that my life up until age 21 was not tied to anything technological at all. And I'm not so very old; 34. Your post has made me realize that my life, technology speaking, can be divided almost into two separate realities. Before and after technology.

Now with me, if it weren't for the community aspect of technology, technology would not be so big a part of my life. The people I meet and with whom I interact make it meaningful.

Well, those are not mind blowing thoughts.

~Wardeh

mareserinitatis said...

Before I got involved in computer communities (through BBSs when I was in high school because the internet was not in popular use then), I was a very lonely person. I have made some very good friends and had incredibly long-lasting relationships with people I've met over BBSs and the internet.

I think the important thing, however, is that you have to have respect for differences. Just because you have one or two things in common doesn't necessarily mean your entire world views have to jive. And that's a good thing to remember in the real world, too. :-)

~ Angi :) said...

My husband and I (who met one another via the 'net) have an opinion on online communities.

For starters, no matter the content of conversation, one is *still* alone with themselves, in a room, staring at a monitor. That leaves a heck of alot of room for the limbic system to 'read' or 'hear' -interpret, if you will- the tone of voice/intent they are reading.

The limbic system can be fooled into thinking the relationship is real, or viable, or that it has depth based on the interpretation of words and content alone. However, when one meets the individual on the other side of the screen, one often finds that the limbic memory had created details and imagery connected to their friend that doesn't really exist ~ and therefore, the friendship has to take a step back, and allow the emotional realm to 'catch up' to the reality of the person in front of them.

That is why we value meeting others from online communities so highly. If it is a honest, true, deep connection, it will be knit together in the face to face encounter one makes with the other.

Does that mean that the current connections have no value? Absolutely not. Rather, a mental note that we don't fully 'know' that other person until we've truly interacted with them in person. Giving another room and space to be themselves upon such a meeting is of great worth.

Can we possibly meet all of our online connections? Uh, no. That is why we strive to be as real and transparent as possible, so as to give the online friendship the opportunity to be as viable as possible.

Relationships without pretense. Even online? Who knew? :D

se7en said...

I totally love my on-line world and community. I love commenting and getting comments back and I have always considered these to be true friendships. Often the first time in a day that I sit down is after 11pm at night... and how many all-nighters have I done with a teething baby (forget about college here guys!)... Anyway my point is there are not many people I can call at that time of night or visit now that my work is done! But on-line there is always a friend or five up and about ready to chat back... I think its fabulous that moms don't have be "shut-at-home" just because they are intensely busy. My internet world keeps me current with news (news that interests me!) and current with friends... I would be really isolated and lonely without it!!!

And just on the side... we got our catalogue yesterday... it normally takes months and months to get to us... it may have been the simple packaging that made it quicker (no packaging)... whatever my kids have vanished with it checking out all the new things they can look forward to next year - how funny since we are only in week five!

Jenn said...

As a stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom I have found that blogging has helped me feel connected through some of my lonely moments. It has helped ease the isolation I feel at times.
And I love the Sonlight Forums, because there are always awesome discussions. I have found some really great solutions to some of my dilemmas by reading what other moms have to say.

Luke said...

Wow, love the responses! Great points, all of you. Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom. Very good stuff.

~Luke

Wendy said...

I'm late to this conversation, but I thought I'd add something anyway :)

Online relationships have changed my life in several ways. The SL forums have given me some great help along the way, I've prayed & cried with "friends" there. I'm not active there now, there's just not enough time in my day, but I still enjoy seeing my old friends there when I visit and I can't wait to meet some of them, even if it isn't until we're in Glory. Isn't that corny? But's that's my heart.

Also, I have been emailing with a woman daily after we were placed in the same book discussion group on the forums. We hope to meet in real life someday. I very much consider her one of my closest friends.

Finally, I know you read many many blogs a day, but we feel like you are our friend. We've eaten the pita bread pizza Brittany put on her blog, we pray for your children to be home, and today as I read something about a rat's lifespan, I thought about your pet. I guess that means you're our friend, since our language hasn't yet created a word meaning someone you feel you know but have never met.

I do have a great group of friends in my real life, but some just don't "get" homeschooling, so it's so nice to find that community online.

Luke said...

Wendy, thank you for your great feedback. And, yes, we're totally friends <smile>. And we really appreciate your prayers very much!

~Luke

Amy said...

One of my closest friends is a woman I met online through the Yahoo Support for Homeschooling (SHS) group.

We now chat via e-mail, facebook, & phone. We hope to meet someday. I'm in MI, & she's in GA, but we're working that way!

I'm also still in occasional contact with a woman I met through the Sonlight forums a couple of years ago.

Since we've moved a "couple" of times (15 times by our 10th anniversary, changing states 6 times), the internet is necessary for us to maintain friendships we have established through each move.

We have long-time IRL friends whom we see once or twice a year when we go "home", but we keep up with them in between online. I think that's more the norm now than ever.

I think a very "real" community CAN exist online; even among those who have never met IRL. However, I think that the internet does dimish some sense of community that we used to have. People often spend more time with their "online" friends than they do their IRL friends. I don't know. Maybe that's not so bad. Maybe some of our IRL friends were friends of convenience because we all lived in the same area? Maybe now we have a better chance at meeting "true" friends because we're meeting over commonalities rather than location. Thoughts to ponder. Good post.

Amy

Luke said...

Amy, you are absolutely right: There has been a shift because geography is not the limiting factor now. But the lack of physical presence has shifted.

Now that I think about it, it would be interesting to see how this differs for men and women, since men tend to talk "shoulder to should" whereas women like to talk "face to face." Does this natural tendency change how we interact online?

There is much to ponder here!

~Luke

Robin E. said...

I know this is an older post, but I've gotten behind in my blog reading. I've been too busy reading my Sonlight catalog :D.

Anyway, I agree that groups must be small to really facilitate "community", but people will naturally create their small groups within a larger one. Sonlight forums are an example of this taking place. It is quite large, but we members tend to find smaller groups within it. For example, there are often "check in" threads for each Core, where those of us using the same Core post how our week has gone. Viola, smaller "community" within a large group. Considering that most of us move onto the same Core the following year, we develop long term community as well.

Luke said...

Great point, Robin! Thanks for adding it, even if it is "late" <smile>.

~Luke

Heather the Mama Duk said...

I'm behind in reading blog posts, too, but I totally agree with Robin.

My best friend is someone I met on-line. We've met IRL twice. She came to visit me a few years ago and I went out there last year when she had her fifth baby. I was actually supposed to be there when the baby was born, but she came a little early so I missed the moment of her arrival. My best friend and I talk almost daily, sometimes for hours depending on what's going on. We've obviously developed an off-line relationship, but thank goodness for the internet originally since it's really not likely we ever would have met IRL. We live 2,000 miles apart.

As for big communities like Sonlight, small communities exist within the big one. I "know" some of the people in the Core 1, 2, 1+2 forum, because I post in there regularly, but not, say, the high schoolers forum because I don't have a need to go there yet. I belong to a HUGE site with an awesome message board, JustMommies. I co-host the homeschooling board there and out of dozens of forums, I got to 4 or 5 of them on a regular basis. I have "friends" in each smaller community within the larger community.

In church, while I know most of the people in my congregation, I am close with just a few. That's mostly the other moms of young kids. It's natural for large communities to break into smaller ones. That's not to say I am not friendly with people outside that circle, because I definitely am, but those going through the same things I am at the same time are the ones I talk to the most.

I have lately been bemoaning how society in general has become less and less connected to each other while becoming more connected virtually at the same time. I really started thinking about it a lot when I read John Adams by David McCullough a few months ago. Most people don't take the time to sit and talk with each other IRL much anymore. We've got other things to occupy our time. I'm not sure that's a good thing. Now, considering my best friend was met on-line, I certainly don't have a problem making on-line friendships, but I wish real-life friendships were more common. (Now, granted, I live in the DC area where people are NOT extremely friendly and tend to be of the "mind your own business and don't talk to me" sort. Friendships with neighbors and such many be more common in other areas.)

Luke said...

Heather, there is certainly something to being together that adds another dimension to relationship. And I think we should be involved in our communities. But communities, as we're noting here, can grow in all sorts of environments--including these virtual ones.

Thanks for adding your perspective and experience <smile>.

~Luke


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