bandwagon commentary part 1

March 20, 2007


As much as I can, I like to keep up with things that interest me. I read books, look at lots of websites, read blogs, occasionally blog myself, and any number of other things simply so that I can stay current, and find out what the cutting edge is. I don’t believe it’s possible for a person to be at the cutting edge of too many different things, but certainly some things are a possibility, and it’s important to me to attempt to do that.

When I think along these lines, a comment from one of my professors at Southeastern University rings in my head. Honestly, I can’t remember who it was. Probably several people. In any case, the gist of it is that you can earn a PhD in theology, and if you don’t read a book for six months after you graduate, you are no longer relevant. That’s a sobering thought, and I hope it always sticks with me. A field that is as old as humanity, and as “Christian theology” is almost 2,000 years old, is moving that quickly. That excites me.

Of course, the Internet is maybe forty years old. The Web is less than twenty. It’s younger than I am. So, of course it’s going to move faster. It’s still very young, and that’s exciting as well.

In any case, a couple of recent things deserve attention, I think. One is Twitter. A lot of people have been talking about this app. Basically, it allows people to post messages of 140 characters or less about what they’re doing right at the time of their post. The groundwork for this was created in MySpace/Facebook/etc., Digg, and any number of other apps that are more or less specific in who and what they target.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of creating community with the rest of humanity. More books and articles have been written about this than I know, I’m sure, but I’ve seen enough to be convinced of this. We are reacting against the modern isolation of humanity, and we’re doing it in any number of ways. The Internet is one of the biggest. Everyone who’s interested knows that YouTube sold for $1.6 billion last year, and that’s not and I don’t think it will become an isolated occurrence.

The thing is, though, that we have not yet figured out what this online community means. People attend church online. Is this a valid form of worship? Sure. Is it valid community? Maybe. To what extent? We don’t know. Is MySpace a community? I guess. To what extent? It’s easy for me to sit in front of my computer typing into a blog, and say that the Internet will never replace face-to-face interaction as the best and most important form of community. And I believe that. But after that very broad statement, everything gets murky. No longer is there a “Real life = good” “Online life = bad” dualism, even for those for whom such an idea existed.

All of these applications are a symptom of this. Twitter is an interesting one. You can’t really get community in 140 characters or less, and everyone knows that. But if you write 140 characters or less 100 times a day, is that community? Does anyone really care how much sugar you just put in your coffee? Or that you want to take a nap when you get out of work? Sure they do, and that’s the interesting thing. (Of course there are practical uses for this. “My computer broke. Fix it.” I’m sure there are lots of great people sitting around on Twitter who love to help people fix their computers.) So this is where these concepts get gray. I’m not interested in what people do all day, and I don’t care for other people to know what I do all day. I’d much rather sit down over a latte for a couple of hours and talk about politics, or the change of culture, or the future of the church, or about the last book I read, or whatever. However, these things all can be and are done online. I’m doing them right now, online. Would this be community, if I had any readers? Sure. Interesting. Very interesting.