Digital is #IRL

Back in January, I had posted a comment on Online + Digital Church Leaders (Facebook ⧉) regarding the language used in the context of physical and digital expressions of church.

I realized that it might be time to adjust some language. If we really are going to believe that digital community can (and does) happen, then perhaps we ought to drop In Real Life (IRL). We all (I think) believe that the digital expression of church is valid. Therefore we ought to not diminish it by using IRL, as it implies that online isn’t real. I understand that this is a cultural thing. However, as we train our leaders and churches about digital church, we shouldn’t even inadvertently reinforce the bias against digital expressions.

If you are not familiar with #IRL it is the abbreviation for “in real life”. It is used in online and SMS messaging to indicate that something is happening outside of the digital realm. The problem is, especially when considering online church and discipleship, is this constant comparison of digital to “real”. We all do understand some of the “false” digital life pieces, much of which revolves around games. Yet, at the same time, we understand just how real the digital is with concerns about “flame-wars” and cyber-bullying. There is a constant tug between the “unreal” part of digital life and the “real” part.

My role as Online Campus Paster at Generations Community Church has forced a lot of this to the fore in my mind and heart. I’m not much of a gamer…okay, I’m not a gamer at all. Like many, the extent of my “gaming” are those mobile games. My interest wanes pretty quickly, as I am just not willing to invest that much time into any of it. Many people view games as fake or false, and thus “not real.” It’s then easy to put any such digital “thing” in the “not real” category.

Part, maybe even most, of it is this concept/perception that if the flesh can’t be touched, then it is not “real”. There is this idea back from the old days of the internet, that everyone behind a screen is just a persona. That just isn’t true. Is there some of that? Absolutely! There is just as much of that in the world of “touching flesh”. In fact, there might even be more. What if the digital does a better job of separating our personas from our true and deep selves?

Someone (I’ll give credit if I can figure out who) recently noted that the Roman Catholic church has had a practice of anonymity when it comes to confession. There was no question as to the integrity of what was confessed, though the confessor’s integrity in pursuing confession could be different. Yet, somehow we have this mindset that everything else must be “in the flesh” to be real.

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