The relationship between technology and religion fascinates me. Here, a college ministry director for a Presbyterian Church in L.A. writes about the opportunities and challenges of youth ministry in a Facebook age:
Who hasn’t gone online and seen one of their student’s provocative profiles? This is a devastating blow to any youth worker, and a look into a student’s life that you sometimes never see…Though these negative issues highlight some of the reasons why we often fear these communities, there is also a plethora of opportunities to see your students engaged in all kinds of positive things, whether it’s finding a connection in an online Bible study group, joining a local outreach cause, or generally displaying a spiritual wisdom and maturity that you have been fostering for several years.
In retrospect, I wonder if “devastating blow” is what my LDS family members and former Church leaders felt when they first encountered my blog. This interaction between how those in one group may perceive our online presence (church, work, extended family) and how we ourselves view it fascinates me:
It’s not uncommon to find our students living duplicitous lives, interacting with a student who is in our midst on a weekly basis at church, but with a click of a mouse you soon realize they are often living a completely different life that is incongruent with the person you think you know. This phenomenon often leaves us scratching our heads wondering which is the real identity.
I suspect that this balancing of roles is far too complex to be simply dismissed as duplicitous. I suspect that our lives were once easily compartmentalized. If, for example, you’re very professional at work and you don’t broadcast your swinging lifestyle, it’s not “duplicitous” however shocked your boss or coworkers might be to discover signs of it online (unless your work = Christian youth ministry). I don’t want to discount that these ministers do encounter actual lying, but I want to emphasize (and I believe that the author realizes as well) that this is a complex social phenomenon.
People have different expectations of each other in different situations, and I think much of the potential dissonance is caused by when others project those expectations across the boundaries between our different social roles. This is as much a problem of the viewer as of those in the spotlight. The so-called Web 2.0 tools: blogs, photo-sharing, social networking sites, etc., make it easier for others to break down the barriers we typically set up between different aspects of life. It also gives users wonderful opportunities to experiment with different aspects of our own complex, continually evolving public and private identities.
This plays out in different ways for each individual. In my case, blogging helped me to break down the barriers between roles. When I realized that I had private inner doubts but a public persona of piety, blogging helped me to make the skeptic public and to begin working out the differences between the two. It took some time before I could get the two in sync (and ultimately I had to leave the LDS Church to complete the task), but I know that some who knew me at church were disturbed at what they encountered online. What they called duplicity was, ironically, my sincere effort at authenticity.