the road ahead

Virtual Communities of Trust
December 6, 2009, 7:36 pm
Filed under: business, ministry, spirituality

I have been reading a very interesting book, Viral Loop by Adam L. Penenberg. It reminded me of the importance of trust when it comes to the internet.

Here is what I mean: All who socialize on the internet have a public self and a digital self. Interestingly the difference in relationships in our physical and virtual relationships is very small.

As a digital friend, you are known in a much larger network than in your physical relationships. Think about it–if you Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or participate in some other online social network, your digital relationships are much larger than the number of real-world friendships. As we connect online, we establish relationships of trust with a broader number of people, many of whom we have never met in person.

Why do so many participate in these online communities? As I learned from Viral Loop, “social networking makes us happy. Engaging with friends helps us live longer and better lives.” The author quotes a study that found that people with large networks of friends lived longer than those with fewer friends. But here is the big difference: The physical distance between the friends did not matter. A social network of trusting friends helped people live longer! So whether by phone, letter, or internet, a community of trusting friends makes us happy!

As you Facebook or Twitter, you are part of a virtual community of trust. What do you think about that? I would love to hear your comments.


8 Comments so far
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Hi. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments that a community of trusting friends makes us happy. I am the moderator of a 250 member Christian Leadership forum on Yahoo. We’ve been communicating with each other for over 15 years and many have come to visit at our home. Spiritual companions do not need to live in our hometown. We can be close to one another’s hearts as we pray for each other and care for one another. My Spiritual Director was an online relationship for over a year. : ) Thanks for your good conversations here. Donna

Comment by Donna Arthur

I am so convinced of the connection between relationships and healthy longevity that I just tried to become your friend on Facebook and couldn’t find you. Needless to say it probably took a couple weeks off my lifespan. I feel defrauded!

Grace :-{ Fred

Comment by Fred Wevodau

I have read other studies that say virtual relationships don’t compensate for face-to-face relationships. These studies show that many people experience increased depression when there is only virtual relationships and a lack of healthy face-to-face relationships. Trust is built on the basis of integrity and service. Service, Jesus said, is essential for us to fulfill the Second Commandment. Virtual relationships are word-based. If “serve one another in love” is the standard for good relationships, my guess is that virtual communities rank pretty low when it comes to tangible service. Can a virtual community do more than share information?

Comment by Glenn

I think it is what we all want them to be however as long as there are people out there that feel they are entitled to infringe on what should be private relationships I’m not sure how much trust should be placed on anything that is not face-to-face.

Comment by Jill Johnson

I’d agree. I think it has a little to do with our desire to belong, which is really just a need for community. Mentally that community can exist physically, virtually or a combination thereof. To me there is no real difference in having a relationship with my uncle in Denver (fictitious example) whom I never see but talk to once a year via phone or someone I only interact with online via Twitter or Facebook. I still feel connected. I’ve actually found tighter connections with some people on Twitter or Facebook due to the frequency of contact. Many of those online relationships have turned into offline friendships and business opportunities as well. To me it’s all balance and how we use it but being connected with others is the key.

Comment by Daniel Decker

John Donne said, “More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” I think this is true if the “souls” are being true, telling the truth to each other as well as hearing that other heart and seeking to understand. But how will I know this about another letter writer/blogger/twitterer? Time and many letters, I suppose. But we are meant to live in community, that is, to be face to face with each other for the greatest part of our daily lives. Bodies as well as minds are blessed gifts to be shared in person! When I spend time with people and can see them act and react; when I can hear their voices and respond with my voice,I can experience Christ, can learn what it means to love in the present moment. Our Lord God names Himself as The WORD. He is a writing God. WE are to feed on His Word, to let it form our minds and hearts so we can live it out. Our Communicating God is also a personal God, present in the Babe in the manger who grew up to die for me and rise again; present by His Spirit in me now. I’m convinced that the most desirable and the greater number of our relationships ought to be ones in which we can be with other people, live alongside them, as Jesus was (and is now) with His disciples and followers. These kinds of relationships and friendships take time to develop and for me that means I don’t spend very much time in front of a screen. I do write letters, though, that my friends and family can hold in their hands.

Comment by Joyce Sackett

I feel Twitter/Facebook has become another distraction from our relationship w/God in our society with how much time we can spend on these networks. Speeking face-to-face limits less confusion & conflict by body language than writing or internet would. It can be very difficult to write your heart into words that can cause conflict and be misguided to a close chapter in friendships. I think to have a healthy friendship is to limit our friends to be few, more time with God & more money in your pockets. I think it would be nice to have one friend you can trust and share your life with. In all consideration, we must realize the larger our network of friend’s become, less time w/God we endure. I think we need to evaluate our hearts & see what really matters to us as Christians.

Comment by Coy Lavergne

I like it. Good article. While there is no substitute for face to face interaction, I believe social networking is an extension of fostering relationships. We know that God created us for relationship and that He has placed within each of us a desire for relationships. Yet our world is increasingly turning inward. Social networking is one of the few avenues for fostering relationships. I also believe this inward turning of society allows the church of today a golden opportunity. It is one of very few placees where people can build true face to face personal trusting relationships. These relationships can then be fostered on-line through social networks as well. The next question might be, Can we use social networking to build disciples? Here’s to friendly relationships!

Comment by George Yates

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