I was offered to give a talk last Thursday at Christian Focus, at Warwick Uni. As blogging is something I started to take more seriously over the past few months, and because it has become more important in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to personally reflect on how this online-ness fitted in my life. I also thought that, as several initiatives such as notashamedofthegospel.com try to work out ways to use the internet to evangelise, and as viral videos such as this one recently took my facebook wall by storm, it would be good to share these insights with my student friends.

I recorded the talk, most of which you can listen to here, but will outline some of the points below:

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In short, I think that being online changes our life, and in particular our Christian life, in three main ways:

1. Anonymity

The Internet brings the possibility of anonymity. This has its blessings, as it is a safe environment to go to, without the constant fear of losing face or standing: on the Internet, through anonymity, you can ask questions you wouldn’t necessarily dare to ask. Our prayer requests online can become more sincere and personal as the risk of losing face disappears, and as the need to look holy subsides.
It is also a safety net for experiments, such as, for me, this blog when I started it: I did not know where it would lead, but if I failed, I could always start something else and just forget about this blog. This is a luxury in many real-life cases.
Of course, it also is an open door for trolling and abuse, and ill-thought harsh words. And as there is no relationship involved, the receiving of the message is completely dissociated from its broadcasting.

2. Increased choice

This dissociation also happens in real life, when people choose books, or churches: choice happens in real life as well as online. But, online, the pool from which we choose is much wider. A better fit to what we resonate to, is available. The people whose blogs I chose to follow and regularly read tend to post content to which I would say “yes! that makes sense!” than those that would make me go away troubled. Maurillio Amorim recently posted about the illusion of knowing what we want and how, effectively, through giving us more choice, we are denied real influence.
I don’t only choose what I read. I also choose what I write. The capacity to edit is part of that choice.
What this means at the end of the day is that my Internet experience of Christianity is very much me-shaped. I take on what mirror images of me say and believe it to be influence, while I dismiss more easily the bits that I disagree with.

3. Constant fragmentation

This ability to switch off is present everywhere. We have browsers with many tabs (as I’m writing this, I have seven tabs open, and I got distracted by something and now have twelve) and compartmentalise the discrete bits of information into those very short-term placeholders. As such, this information is only affecting us at the surface level, for a very limited part of our identity. Moreover, online, we share information – and the exchange has a tendency to remain at the cognitive level.
Online, we get the illusion of being completely engaged, because we are reachable 24/7, and because we have access to stuff at our own convenience; and, worse, we get interrupted from real life experience by texts/emails/other online elements. That fragmentation is threatening to be pervasive into our own lives.

How have you seen your identity change when online?