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Credit: Frank Jacobs at Big Think, http://bigthink.com/ideas/21168. Posted May 25, 2007.

Today Katelyn Beaty, editor of Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women got me really thinking.  She put before our small circle gathering the idea of online community. She asked us to consider and discuss the pros and cons of the effects of social media. “Are online relationships really relationships?” Ms. Beaty asked. “Are online communities really communities?” Things that make you go hmm…

The Internet has both shrunk and opened the world to vast possibilities of communication, sharing of thoughts and ideas and e-friendships. People can meet (and have met) people online, and where they live matters not.  They share the deepest parts of themselves, develop an attachment to one another and in some cases date and eventually marry. Additionally, blogging has changed the face of publishing.  No longer does one need to query a print journal or publishing house or self publish a book in order to share her writing and storytelling talents with the world.  It’s much simpler now.  All she needs to do is set up a blog for free, type away, click ‘send,’ post the link on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and voila! She is published to a built-in audience.

The cool thing about blogging and e-publishing is the corresponding immediate and vast connection to readers. In the past authors received feedback on their work primarily through letters sent to their publishers. (Ugh…stamps and snail mail! Who needs them?!) Now they can log on and be not only immediately linked to people, but be in dialogue with them via the comment/reply box. Since we are having these online (sometimes real-time) conversations, it can feel as if we’re authentically getting to know one another quickly and well. Affinity groups for any interest are literally at people’s fingertips and accessible and available 24-7. Further, as I mentioned in my post on day 2 of the Festival, Christian writers are a generous and like-minded folk.  Bloggers are apt to follow one another, comment proliferately, share one another’s posts with the ethernet and, last but certainly not least, offer support and understanding. It is easy to feel senses of love, belonging, and, indeed, of community.

The downside, as Ms. Beaty aptly pointed out, is that if this is community (one person in the room argued that it truly is not), it is at best mediated.  The social media butterfly relies on his computer or phone to converse, share stories and pictures, etc. It is not often that friends who meet online actually get to greet one another in person. How true and deep are these relationships, honestly?

As increasingly more people engage the social media with regularity we risk beginning to lose our in-person and interpersonal communication skills. Without our screens and keypads, may we over time become uncomfortable (at best, inept at worst) at looking someone in the eye and engaging in even the most unchallenging conversation?  Heaven forbid if there is some sort of conflict or crisis.  Would we know what to say?  Would we know what to do? How would we navigate the organic and fluid art of human relationships?  Would we lose sight of unspoken, yet passed down social rules and taboos?  What of nonverbal communication?  Would we lose our ability to read one another and ourselves?  Emoticons are fun and helpful, but they pale in comparison to an in-the-flesh human facial expression.

The lesson that I took from the discussion is the importance of balance in this digital age, particularly for the writer.  The best ideas, inspiration and writing result from experiencing life existentially. One cannot smell, taste, touch, feel truly see the world through a screen.  How will we know how to describe things, situations and emotions if we do not engage them for ourselves?  Concurrently, as I described in my post that discussed platform, social media is pretty much essential for a writer these days, well established and burgeoning authors inclusive. Online opportunities to write, reply and virtually commune abound as do internet savvy readers. Being active online helps to keep writers in the know of opportunities; increases their potential to gain more readers; and assists in networking.

I believe I’ll post this into the blogosophere, and then hang out with my daughters.  There’s no time like the present to begin living a balanced creative life. 🙂