Monday, February 20, 2017

Internet Connections

When I was young I had an interest in aircraft. Of particular interest was the fighters and pilots of World War I and World War II. In my readings, I came across a report that in World War II they found that sending young men into the battlefield proved to be tougher than they thought. They could give them guns and train them to shoot at those round targets with some accuracy, but when they put them in the trenches and told them to shoot the people in the other trenches, it became more difficult. You see, at least back then it was easy to shoot a target, but hard to shoot a person. That was why the job of the pilots was so different. They were not shooting people; they were shooting targets. The targets were other planes or buildings, trains, or tank columns on the ground or the like. They didn't look into the faces of the people they had to kill in those planes and such, so it wasn't the same as the soldier in the foxhole. I read about one P-51 pilot involved in a large air battle over Belgium. In the course of the fight he brought his guns to bear on a Heinkel bomber and it burst into flames. The crew bailed out, but the pilot's parachute caught on the tail of the plane and he went down with it. That P-51 pilot looked locked eyes with that other, doomed pilot and was never able to fly in combat again.

Welcome to our world today. This is where we live. Whether driving down the road or cruising the Internet or using your smartphone, we operate in a world largely disconnected from actual people. Oh, we think we're more connected. We aren't. Those cars have drivers and maybe passengers, sure, but we see cars. That tweet was written by a person, of course, but we see words, not people. And our responses, whether it's road rage or an online battle of words, demonstrate that we are not talking to people; we're attacking something else.

The truth is that we are talking to people. We are honking at drivers. We are tweeting those mean things to genuine human beings. We are blasting rude and unkind responses to accounts on Facebook. But like those pilots in war, we just don't see it. So we don't experience the same natural inhibitions that we would if we were face to face. We enjoy the separation, the sense of anonymity, the safety of distance, and we just let fly. Compounding the problem, interaction by car, Twitter, Facebook, and the like is never the same as face to face. There is no nuance, no body language, no tone of voice, no knowing wink. What would have been understood as purely humorous in person is taken as deadly serious when drained and filtered through the Internet. Add to that the Internet troll, people who get their jollies by anonymously going around being rude and unkind just to get a rise out of others, and it's hard to think that our "more connected" world is actually more connected.

Okay, look, I don't like it when people complain without offering anything constructive. "I don't like that" doesn't help anyone. Offer a solution, an alternative, something. So, while it's true that I really don't like how disconnected we've become on our phones and computers thinking all the while that we're more connected, it doesn't do any good just to say that. What, then, do I want? I want believers to take a look at their own practices. I want us to remember that we're called to love. We're told to season our speech with grace (Col 4:6). We are told to defend the faith, but to do so "with gentleness and reverence." (1 Peter 3:15) We are supposed to let our good works show so that God will be glorified (Matt 5:16). Let's see if we can't be more conscious as we do these things in our electronic world and our driving world and any other interactions that we're having interactions with people instead of thinking that a separation from the face is an excuse not to obey Christ. Let's see if we can work on that, okay?

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