I have been a part of online communities since August 2004, and joined my first social utility May 2007. At the time, I made these remarks about the beginning of my journey:
As I try to navigate this interesting 'My Space' set up process, I am marveling at the fact that I am even here. I have so much that I should be doing...
I wonder what I will find here, learn here and what opinions will form because of this decision. Perhaps I will like it. Mostly what I have seen so far is beautiful young women who prefer to make themselves appear harsh, cheap and dirty. *shrug* Perhaps I will discover why.
And, here I am two years later still pondering the value and effects of being a part of a virtual community. There are loud nay-sayers close to me, and I value their opinions, but I think I will have to respectfully disagree.
I have some experience under my belt now. I am a member of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, not to mention several photo communities that host photos and enable 'friending'. In addition, I am part of a couple rather large hobby-based online communities. I have to admit, I enjoy them all or else I wouldn't be a part of them.
I am also a part of an extremely close local religious community, and have been for quite some time. Only by being part of a tight-knit community, where you spend so much time together, can you truly begin to observe and appreciate the ebb and flow of human relationships.
However, I continue to hear criticism of online or virtual communities. That they foster unhealthy attitudes about popularity and they are a breeding ground for gossip and a sinful lifestyle. I often hear this Scripture used as reference:
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
OK, so I like this gem of wisdom, but I'm not so sure that this can be applied quite in the context intended, to discourage participating in online communities. Perhaps we need to view this verse within the surrounding texts:
(18) He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool.
(19) When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.
(20) The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, the heart of the wicked is worth little.
(21) The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of understanding.
It seems to me that the Scripture is comparing that of someone who conceals hatred and is a fool with someone who is righteous. And, that it would be true of any social situation, not just an online community. As we spend all day every Saturday together as a community, there are many, many words spoken, and I'm sure transgressions occur. It is only natural and part of the human condition, our fallen nature. However, we don't forsake the community because of this. It is healthy and beneficial to work through these situations as a community. "The lips of the righteous feed many..."
It is the same with online communities, just not as personal. I will concede that people can and sometimes do represent themselves falsely, that is their choice. Again, that happens frequently in a flesh-and-blood community, as well. People read board posts wrong, or say things in the heat of passion...just like in any community. There are righteous participants and foolish ones, just like in any other place where people are gathered. I see no reason to not be a part of online communities because of this. Actually, it just gives me more of an opportunity to act and respond to others in a righteous and loving way. "The lips of the righteous feed many..."
In the final analysis, I think wisdom and discernment needs to be exercised when gathering with any group of people, whether flesh-and-blood or virtual. I believe that by choosing to be a part of a community, you are giving and gaining value to and from that community. I continue to say that you can learn so much about people by just spending time; either with them in person or interacting with them online. Personal profiles, self-descriptions and status posts are most revealing and can be entertaining, too. If you are a parent of a young person, you need to be in the same online community they are; not just to watch and protect, but to interact and train.
I say enter in and enjoy, and do so with righteousness and wisdom.
A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words,
and the deeds of a man's hands will return to him. (Proverbs 12:14)