Not long ago I started a small invitation-only online discussion group that was targeted specifically at considering the church’s utilization of the ‘net. Over the last couple of days we’ve had some very interesting discussion about the difference between facetime and online relationships. Some of my observations/initial conclusions:
– ironically, increased intimacy online can be enabled by its very optionality. Because it’s so easy to disconnect from a group or individual in online discussion (I don’t need to storm out of a room, I can just type a few keys and be done with you) individuals can feel more safety to open up. This ambiguity is bad when it leads to a lack of Christian commitment and good when it “tricks” someone, as it were, to develop a *real* relationship online that leads to Christian mutuality!
– Christian obligation notwithstanding, there does not seem to be a one-to-one correspondence between the significance that one attributes to online rels and one’s character or folks’ capacity to *have* significant relationships. I noticed a similar thing after I left college/graduate school. I noticed that some great friends would use the telephone and letters to keep up and others would not. And it didn’t seem to have anything to do with how close we were in school. Now with online rels this ambiguity can be exacerbated by the fact that the rels *start* with an alternative narrow broadband medium. On the other hand, the immediacy of online interaction is an advantage over previous alternative mediums for friendship.
– I’ve been trying to evaluate whether there is any legitimacy to any claim of variable significance to online versus realtime relationships. As I’ve thought about this, it seems to me that it’s an issue of sensory bandwidth (and there are probably other aspects about this to consider as well). With online rels, immediacy is enhanced by virtue of convenience and the interactivity inherent in the medium, but the sensory bandwidth is narrow. I am only experiencing you by reading your words. If I were in your presence my experience would be more transpropositional. I would have a fuller experience of you. Yet, if we posit that the significance of relationships is contingent on sensory bandwidth, we would then conclude that seeing disabled people are intrinsically hampered in their ability to have significant relationships, or that a letter I write to my wife is less significant than a kitchen conversation. Since this is obviously not the case, sensory bandwidth is an inadequate criterion by which to evaluate the significance of a relationship and must be discarded.