The Internet—time-waster or community-builder?
I don’t know about you but a lot of the folks in my life—friends, family, coworkers—often joke about getting “sucked into” the internet, wasting hours at a time playing Farmville or checking up on old friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. The “joke” that it’s a waste of time comes from a belief that fundamentally these types of activities are meaningless. They are a waste specifically because nothing productive or good comes from them.
But frankly, I just don’t agree. Rather, I think the internet, like anything else, will be what you make of it.
A pastor friend of mine posted the following note on Facebook on Friday:
Props are on my mind – there are NO Palms in the Luke story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – people lay down cloaks. How freaky is it to visitors of churche to hear a story about laying down cloaks and seeing palm fronds??? Would it seem like fig leaves, grass skirts…..??!?!?
She got a variety of replies, including one from another pastor in the area:
Hey! a little late in the game now, but how about changing it to Coat Sunday, & everbody bringing a coat to throw in the aisle, then donate …
And darned if the first pastor just didn’t go ahead and do it! Two days before Palm Sunday, the pastor used social networking to get the word out that something special was going to be done today at church:
Cloaks and no Palms Sunday: At Green Lake UMC we invite everyone who comes to worship to bring a Spring weight jacket to donate to Mary’s Place or Tent City for someone who is homeless during this change of seasons who could then shed the winter coats for a Spring Jacket. As folks laid the ground for Jesus to come tr…iumphantly into Jerusalem, so we will lay the groundwork for the coming of Spring!
She made phone calls to the folks who weren’t online, and made it happen. This kind of last-minute planning of actually quite significant events is more possible in different types of communities—small rural communities, communes, or monasteries where folks work and eat together during the week and worship together on the Sabbath. It’s not so much possible when everyone is spread out, driving in to church from faraway places. For those of us not living in these types of communities, the internet can provide a new way to communicate quickly.
All of this happened because of two distinct things that Facebook provides. First, it allows a forum for us to put our thoughts out to discuss with others and get feedback (the exchange between the two pastors). Secondly, it allows us to get information out quickly to many people (the pastor posting about the new plans for “coat Sunday”).
If that’s a “waste of time” then I’m a space alien.
But that pastor could have truly wasted her time instead of choosing to engage in this online community discussion. She could have just posted about Lost and tended her Farmville and taken the latest “what cartoon character are you?” quiz and kept her thoughts about the lectionary text for this week to herself. Nothing is wrong with any of those things in and of themselves, but like I said above, the internet is what you make of it. If you expect the internet to be a waste of time, and exclusively choose online activities that are ultimately insignificant, then yes, it will be a waste of time. But if you open yourself up to the work of God and the community through these online spaces, awesome things happen!
Another example of how the internet is just SO not a waste of time for me is the “Fat-O-Sphere,” which has truly changed my life in so many positive ways. Without having discovered it around 8 years ago, I probably would still hate my body. I probably still would not have set foot in a pool since I was 12 years old without the body-positive swimming group I found at the age of 25. I almost definitely would not have joined the gym. I would still be stuck in a bulemic restriction/binge cycle. Those of us in FA are still so few and far between, so scattered around the globe. I may never have found it without the internet. And without it, my quality of life would be significantly worse.
I play Lexulous on Facebook. And this addictive pac-man type game called PacXon. I read Regretsy and Lovely Listings and I fully admit to getting a kick out of some Lolcats every once in a while. But I also do things online that are not a waste of time. I write about things that I care about. I read things that educate and motivate me. I reach out to friends and family, old and new. I participate in community.
We can make good use of our time or waste our time in the city or the suburbs, with others or by ourselves, at home or at work, and, of course, online or offline. There’s nothing inherent about the internet that is a “waste of our time.” It’s all in what we do with it. And I am so thankful for the Fat-O-Sphere for giving me a place to learn, grow, heal, and rejoice in newfound freedoms.