Value Physical Presence Over Virtual Presence

Brian Sun

The people I’m closest to where I live don’t care one bit about their “web presence,” whereas I daydream about tens of thousands of Twitter followers salivating over my 140-character wisdom or hits to my blog from people who don’t know if I’m actually following Jesus in daily life. In fact, I used to care more about what online strangers thought of me than what the people in front of me thought of me. How sad.

One day, after spending a ridiculous amount of hours in front of my computer screen goofing around on Facebook and browsing design agencies, church websites, books I want, and other randomness it hit me that I hadn’t seen or talked to another human being in person that whole day. A whole day. I knew something had to change.

After weeks and weeks of reflecting (my Myers-Briggs is INFJ), I decided that I would be a person who values physical presence over virtual presence. The person in front of me instead of my Twitter following. The person in front of me instead of the person who just texted me.  The person in front of me instead of an anonymous blog reader.

This is how we do it

Valuing physical presence over virtual presence gets really practical. The way this plays out in my life is that I have made a commitment to no longer pick up my cell phone or respond to text messages when I’m spending time with other people. There’s the occasional exception, but they’re infrequent. Another practical application is I made a general rule of thumb to spend more time talking to people in person than sitting in front of my computer screen each day. This gets a little complicated for people whose job requires them to work in front of a computer all day but you are a campus minister, so get out there and talk to students!

Anyway, I’ve made these commitments and developed these convictions because I believe that in-person communication and relationships are healthier, better, and dare I say the primary way God created us to communicate with each other. Even though we’re more “connected” than ever with cell phones and the web, why do you think we have to emphasize community so much in our ministries? Because people are lacking real connection with people.

Digital absence

Since Facebook, iPhones, and the web didn’t exist in biblical times, I can’t reference any Bible verses that say “Hey, you better watch out for Web 2.0 and Verizon.” So, instead, I’ll quote someone who has thought about technology shapes our faith way more than me. In Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, Shane Hipps points out:

“The Internet has a natural bias towards exhibitionism and thus the erosion of real intimacy. There is nothing exclusive about it, yet it creates, paradoxically, a kind of illusion of intimacy with people we’ve never met in person.”

“Authentic community involves high degrees of intimacy, permanence, and proximity.”

“Prioritizing those who are physically absent can have a transforming effect on us when so many are digitally absent.”

So, are you digitally absent?

Be honest about it. I had to be. If you are digitally absent, then make the commitment that you will value physical presence over virtual presence. Then, define how that looks in your daily life.

You can blog to share more with your donors about your ministry. You can tweet to build relationships with other ministers around the world. You can text your students because you know they don’t read your emails anyway. You can Facebook to stay in touch with old friends. These are good things. Just don’t do them at the expense of damaging your relationships with the people who are right in front of you. And be a person who values physical presence over virtual presence.

By Brian Sun | Posted: Aug 04, 2011
Category: Time & Task Management | Permalink | Post a comment | Trackback URL.

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