The reason I enjoy being online is because of the relationships I have made there. I’ve ‘met’ many people online that I would never have known in any other way.
Online relationships can offer a closeness and an immediacy that exceeds what friends can offer each other offline. It can feel as if people are coming right into my home and into my head via Facebook or Twitter or i-church. My online Christian friends are very present in my life, giving support, prayer, sympathy, comfort and help.
But the closer I feel to someone I know online, the more drawn I feel to meeting up with them face to face. Meeting ‘in real life’ offers another dimension to the relationship – knowing what they sound like, how they react in conversation, hearing the stories about their lives which would take too long to write down.
Haptic technology uses the sense of touch to make online gaming experiences more physically ‘real’, using vibrations and motions to connect the gamer to what’s happening on screen. But traditional pastoral care relies more on ‘tea and sympathy’ than on shaking people! Most ‘online friends’ aren’t able to nip round for a cup of tea when we feel lonely or cook meals when we feel too tired or depressed to bother, and haptic technology seems unable to change that!
For me, a digital paradise would be one where the closeness of online relationships was merged with the shared physical presence of offline relationships – with the worst aspects of human behaviour, online and offline, banished.