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Pluto

Choosing teams in the digital age

Feels like I keep circling around the same topics (as well as probably repeating myself). Oh well—the worst that could happen is that I'll have the same "epiphanies" over and over again, amazing myself and boring anyone else.

With my 20th high school class reunion coming up this month, I'm thinking more about the unexpected dynamics of being in touch. When I grew up, there was little reason to expect that we'd one day have access to an almost immediate, almost universal electronic address book. There wasn't much reason to think of what keeping relationships over distance or time would look like—it'd probably be the same as our parents, concentrated locally and currently with a few ties farther out and farther behind. Even in the category of "current and local" we'd be understandably limited, so much so that we didn't even think of it as a limit at all.

Now I can seemingly "be in touch" with exponentially more people, in more ways and at more times. There's almost nowhere from which I can't make a phone call. Writing an email theoretically takes a few minutes with immediate delivery. Social networks keep me "connected" with hundreds if not thousands. And yet, there's no actual increase in capacity. Not only do I have the same number of hours in the day as my parents, but I also have the same relational limits—just because I have data and means to be in relationship with such a deep and wide field of people doesn't mean I really can. But it may seem as if I can, to me and to others.

Ultimately, that means making choices. Hardly a revolutionary realization, and yet I wonder if many of us realize we need to do so (and are doing so, in some way). If I'm going to be here now and not feel constantly fragmented, behind, and/or guilty, I have to choose. And beyond my own need to choose and have peace with those choices, there's also the question of how we relationally deal with the choices we individually must make.

No matter how we dress it up, we're more and more likely to find ourselves in situations painfully reminiscent of picking teams on a playground—I choose you; I don't choose you. The luxury of just dropping off of someone's radar is quickly vanishing, exposing the fact that's always been true: we make choices. Can we accept that from one another gracefully in relationship? That can be a steep hill to climb—not only do we have the "normal" feelings of loss, but we've also got the sensitivities and wounds from our pasts with which to contend. Again, while that's always been the case, we're losing much of the plausible deniability (on all sides) that used to help smooth the rough edges of stark reality.

Comments

Excellent post. If you are in fact circling around topics, they're topics that well deserve it.

It's cliched today to say that the internet has led to shallower relationships. I think we all know that, but I doubt that we realize just how many ways it happens. Obviously, there's the phenomenon of "online friends", which has made it harder to go out and actually meet and interact with real life people in our day to day lives.

But, as you say, it really has raised expectations to unsustainable levels, in terms of those people that would have naturally come and gone from our lives. People say that it's "easy" to stay in touch, to remain friends. Well, no. It might in fact be easy to shoot off a two line email or poke someone of facebook, but that's not friendship. And when it becomes a duty, and leads to frustration or bitterness about the empty ritual of it all, it's the very antithesis of the thing.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about this very same issue, but have a hard time articulating it. It's always a pleasure to read your thoughts on these kinds of topics.
I had a bear of a time getting any thoughts out, either (it's taken the better part of a week), and it's still kind of nebulous, but c'est la vie.

I believe deeper friendship now involves (potentially) telling a lot of people "no" and getting to "yes" with a smaller set, even for the most extraverted among us. But since this is so new, no one taught us this and we're not sure what we're doing wrong. Or maybe it's just me.
Nope- I'm still getting more selective with my real-life friends, and finding myself even doing the same with my online friends. And it is new, and we're the first generation to really have to muddle through it, but I think it's certainly possible to have both shallower and deeper relationships because of the Internet. I appreciate that it's taken me less time to get to know my coworkers, for example, or that my friends from Illinois who might have dropped off my radar can let us know easily that they're coming to Seattle. But I don't appreciate that I feel maxed out every time I get online, and that it's a chore just to keep up. I don't know what the solutions are, but it's interesting to talk about, and I think it's a conversation that needs to keep happening- as long as we're continually examining our lives to make sure that they're doing the things we want them to be doing (and God wants us to be doing, for those of us that are Christians), I think we're doing well. Keep posting!