Under the category “Some things never change, but some things definitely do!

I was just getting used to the idea of  UNM classes where you did your homework online and got your syllabus online and suddenly this semester I have three classes which are all only online!  Turns out one of the professors isn’t even in the state!  I’m very much enjoying being home while doing school, but I’m also finding that it doesn’t mean any less work and that it does mean more possibility of simply missing something by being in the wrong place (or folder) at the wrong time…well, at least that’s my fear.  It hasn’t happened yet.  I find myself checking my classes over and over, checking the discussion boards, my email, rereading the syllabus, the learning modules…just to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

Anyway,

I’m taking on online class this semester on Information Architecture (for some reason that’s an english class).  It’s essentially about how to design and organize information on a website in the most appealing and effective way possible.  It looks to be a very interesting and informative class, and in the first week, the professor asked us all to comment upon how we personally use the web.  A little sub discussion began about the social networking forums, most notably, Facebook and Twitter.   The usual discussion about whether Facebook “counts” as community or whether Twitter is only people talking about themselves to themselves arose, and it started me thinking…pondering, as it were.

Never mind the irony,

that some of the people complaining about online community were doing so in the online community of the class.  Granted there is a difference between using online community to raise farm animals, and to gain a degree, but the essential nature of the communication and community is the same.  I understand the concern that if Facebook is all the community you have you are missing something in the lack of face to face community.  But I guess I also think more and more that it is not the need for deep relationships that has fed social networking but rather something else.  Something is missing which Facebook does replace very well for many.

The Brief touch.

It occurs to me that certain seasons of life are more isolate than others, and in those seasons, there used to be, of necessity brief touches of community.  The most prevalent example I can think of, is the watering hole.  Think of a woman, raising several small children.  It can be a very isolate position.  There’s no carpooling to work, no bumping into someone at the water cooler when you take a break from changing diapers.  There’s not even a stray comment or overhead phone conversation from the next cubicle.  It’s possible to go through the whole day with barely a scrap of adult conversation.  Now, it used to be that of necessity, there would be these brief touches of community–at the well gathering water, at the river washing the clothes, and later, perhaps at the grocery store, or when Aunt Bea brought over a pie from Andy Griffith’s house.  But these days these things are unnecessary.  Groceries can be stocked for long periods of time, and other chores are self contained within the home.  For these women, the phone can be useful as a way of bridging the distance, and I know that for my wife and others, at times the phone has been just such a godsend.

The Briefer touch

But sometimes it’s hard to pick up the phone, and pull someone away from their current mess to complain about your current mess.  A woman in such a situation is unlikely to call a friend just to say “ugh…I can’t believe what a lousy mother I am today.  I can’t seem to do anything right.”  Maybe they truly don’t have time to get into the conversation this would lead to and suspect the other person doesn’t either and so they never pick up the phone.  And yet, this very kind of status will be tweeted or FBed.  And often in response to such an internet cry, comes the internet comfort.  A quick “Hang in there.”  or “I know how it is”  or “I think you’re a great mom…”  can and often does follow such a status update.  Don’t misunderstand me, this does not replace the deep relationships, the longer conversations, the abiding friendship and community that is face to face, and I agree that any attempt to do so will be shallow and lonely; however, it does touch base with those friendships and every status, and comment carries with it a history that only those relationships share, like inside jokes floating across the cybersphere caught by only those in the know.  It’s also important to realize that telling someone the community they’ve found is sub par, doesn’t necessarily mean they will find better community, it may just affirm that they are sub par and can only have such sub par community.  As a Christian and a pastor I do everything I can to stress the importance of family, church and civic community, and to encourage openness and risk, but I will not shun the only community some people have because it’s not “good enough.”

People are hungry for community.

As I work part time at the Apple Store, I not infrequently realize that for both customers and employers it’s more about the community than the product.  Some of this is intentional by Apple Inc, some of it is a byproduct of a shared love, but some of it is just a hunger to find community wherever one can find it.

I’ve seen numerous examples of people who come into the store because they are hungry for a touch, for community.  There’s the elderly gentlemen who was going in for surgery and in his anxiety he had no one he could think of to talk about it with except the nice young man who had helped him buy a computer once.  There was the grandma who was trying to find a way to reward her granddaughter for “taking care of your mama so well after the accident.”  There are the “regulars” who come in two or three times a week, to watch a trailer on our computer, to ask the same questions every week, to talk to someone.  There is the woman who came in the other day to show me that she had figured out how to do something I’d tried to teach her the week before.  She was so proud and had no one else she wanted to share it with.

I guess, if this blog has a point, (and remember faithful readers I make no such promises as I ponder!) I guess it’s that community is a need, and the touch is a hunger, and that those of us who are blessed enough to be surrounded by a loving church community should not disparage those who desperately seek for it anywhere they can.   Instead, can we enrich the communities they walk in; the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Starbucks and Apples.  Can we bring the community of God to them instead of making them only come to us?  Can we seek them out and love them where they are?

Or maybe I’m just rambling cause I needed the blogosphere community to reach out and say hi 🙂

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