Reality is Closing in on the Virtual World
by Daniel Griswold
Originally Run in “The Island Packet” Newspaper on Aug 10, 2010
I knew the world had officially changed when I clicked to add my grandma as a friend on the social-networking site Facebook.
I’m proud to say my mom joined as well, but I distinctly remember how hard it was to teach my sweet mother how to use a mouse without the expression of fear.
Perhaps the world is changing too fast.
More people now create their own image in the electronic mirror. On this mirror, we play out all our hopes and dreams, and the brokenness of our humanity with the friends we have found online.
How easily we forget that behind each profile is a real person.
A war game for the iPhone, with several hundreds of thousands of players, recently had an event that went largely unnoticed: One player committed suicide. It was quietly announced among the player’s army mates, and the account profile that once had been a bastion of warlike activity, suddenly went silent.
Pictures of virtual tears flowed, but no one really knew how to grieve the loss online. Because the people in the player’s army were from all over the world, no one would be able to attend a funeral. And without a connection to anyone who actually knew the player, there would be no one to talk to who actually had met this friend.
As if trapped in the portion of Scripture stating, “I have forgotten happiness” (Lamentations 3:17), the fun stopped for a little while, as the players had to grapple with a real life that existed on the other end of the WiFi. A human soul is missing from among us. He hadn’t just disconnected for the night; no, he was never going to reconnect again. The players had to feel some very human emotions, and eventually we all had to talk.
“I called on your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice, ‘Do not hide your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.’ You drew near when I called on: you said, ‘Do not fear!'” (Lamentations 3:55-57).
In the game, players began to offer prayers of support for their fallen friend. In a game where every player is artificially immortal, we all remembered how truly mortal we are. Somehow in the virtual world a very real world thing had happened. We mourned and supported one another.
I’ve heard of this happening more and more as we connect to one another in the electronic world. On Facebook, people leave comments on the pages of their lost friends; in the games, a player’s profile becomes a memorial for thoughts, prayers and grief. And clips of this activity are now included in the evening news.
Though none of this will ever replace the warmth of a real hand and a hug, experiencing a new form of community has opened my eyes. The virtual world is no longer a separated space, but rather, part of reality.
And the world continues to change.
Daniel Griswold is director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Twitter Name: dannonhill