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Monday, September 21, 2009

Relationships in a Digital Age

This weekend our Pastor, Raleigh Gresham, shared about giving God glory through digital relationships. I thought it would be appropriate to tweet an outline during the sermon ( and then share some thoughts on the blog.

He did a great job of not focusing on the latest technology but going back to how technology has impacted our relationships. Neil Postman talks about this same topic in "Technopoly" but it is not something heard very often.

Our challenge today is that criticism of technology is almost heretical. We as a culture have made a decision that technology is what will save us from loneliness, poverty, ignorance and on and on. So we seek life from technology at every turn instead of seeking life from God.

Raleigh made a great point about the ubiquity of technology. He called it "part of the water in which we swim." I thought that was very helpful because that highlights the fact that we don't even notice technology anymore. Just like we might not notice the green grass we walk on because we are so accustomed to it.

In that ubiquity we have assumed the relationship transfered seamlessly into a digital environment. But as Raleigh pointed out, "the transfer of information is not relationship." The challenge that Raleigh talked about is that the social media present countless opportunities to connect with people, keep people updated, share your life and engage people in discussion. Isn't that relationship?

One big difference. Raleigh talked about the importance of presence in relationship. He shared about how God appeared to Moses and solidified that relationships with presence. He talked about Philippians 2:5-8 and how Jesus came and gave himself sacrificially so we could have relationship with Him. Jesus came out of Heaven to provide that presence. He also talked about Hebrews 10:19-25 where it challenges us as believers not to stop meeting together.

I agree with Raleigh that presence has to be a part of a deep relationship. I have been interacting with a missionary from Japan now online for about 3 years. He is a great thinker and innovator. He and I have exchanged emails, blog comments, facebook comments and so on. But we had never connected outside of the wired world.

Last week he saw a comment I made and asked if I was in the US (he thought I lived internationally). We finally talked on the phone. Even though it is still technology, talking on the phone now made the relationship very different. We got to hear each others voices, listen to how we express ourselves, etc. I feel like I know him much better now that we have actually heard each other's voice. Imagine how I would feel about knowing him if we sat down over coffee?

While I agree with Raleigh, I want to use the example of my friend to add another layer to the discussion. I believe that relationships require presence and that digital interaction is usually more about information than relationships. However, I think that digital relationships can serve as bridges between presence. What do I mean by that?

In today's world where families don't live in the same town, where we move often, where our college friends are scattered around the world, presence is tough. We move and leave behind dear friends and can't imagine just forgetting about them and moving on. But at the same time, without the presence the deep relationship is not there.

In my life what I have noticed is that digital relationships bridge the gap between times of deep and satisfying presence. I will see a dear friend in a given city and then that will help me to utilize the technology to keep interacting with him for weeks/months to come until the next time I see him and we can have that cup of coffee.

Even locally, I can use digital relationships as a bridge to continue a discussion after the meeting is over or prepare for a get-together by raising some of the issues.

So as you live your daily life and build relationship with people across the street and around the world, consider how digital tools can make bridges that lead to deeper relationships!

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