This is an interesting article which challenges the notion of “community” on the internet:
The most obvious distinctive of life in cyberspace is an ominous one: communication is generally restricted to the written word. This skews interpersonal relationships among the Netizens in disturbing ways. Since you only exist in cyberspace by virtue of your words, it is necessary to keep those words flowing. Glibness is substantial, while conciseness is ephemeral. Writing thoughtfully works against you, since it tends to slow down both writer and reader. Self-centered bombast can establish you as a Net personalityâ€”caricature, reallyâ€”while considerate and irenic writing tends to blur your image because it makes you difficult to categorize.
It’s very hard to argue with this. The “conversation” that’s possible on the internet is limited in the way that the author implies.But this does not mean that community of a sort is not possible. Genuine conversation may be hard to find, but it does exist. I hadn’t thought of the internet as a haven for gnostics before, and it’s a thought-provoking idea, but it doesn’t seem to me inevitable that those in “internet communities” are seeking an escape from physical community. Nor do I think that most internet users regard cyberspace as “superior” to the real world. The author claims that
There is nothing to do in cyberspace but talk and listen. When we encounter a brother in need, it profits him little for us to express our sympathy (James 2:15-17). But when the only tools available to us are words, we can respond to his need with little more than an anemic â€œIâ€™ll pray for you,â€ leaving us unableâ€”conveniently soâ€”to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing his burden (Galatians 6:2).
but I know from my own experience and that of others that it is possible to offer more than words via the internet: practical help, support, finance, even (after a fashion) hospitality can all be made available to those in need. Of course, this is different from the kind of help and support that we can offer to our neighbours in the real world, and it is no substitute for it. But Jesus’ command to “love one another” applies to cyberspace as in the streets of our towns and cities, and it can be fruitfully obeyed here.