Chat Rooms & the Glory of God
Remember the late 90's and the birth of AOL? I can still remember when I first signed up with America On-Line. Internet-access, chat-room, and a bunch of other features I have long since forgotten. In my college years I would spend hours in various chat room "defending" my faith with non-believers and arguing points of doctrine with other believers.
It's been years since I've participated in a chat room. I'm not the one to ask, but it seems as if the chat-room thing is dying out. But, they are still out there. Recently a reader of my blog invited me to join a website that hosts Christian chat rooms. I had posted on the issue of divorce and remarriage, and he wanted me to join the discussion on a similar theme. After reading for a while, I noticed the comments of one contributor. He had made a point that I agreed with, so I added a comment. I said, "Yes, by the way, the Greek text says...". The moment I said this it was as if fireworks were set off. I was accused off 'manipulating the Bible', 'being a pharisee', and being 'one of the so-called wise of this world who would come to ruin'. All because of one-sentence I added in agreement with what was being said.
At that moment I remembered something: Oh, yeah! This is why I don't miss chat rooms. They are inherently problematic and I've profited little from participation in them (though I still comment on blogs, which are marred by similar problems). I've noticed the following traits about chat rooms, discussion threads, and comments on blogs:
1. Online discussions remove the personal. Nonverbal language, essential to informal conversation, is impossible or (in the case of video chat) severely limited. More importantly, the relational aspect is removed, resulting in conversation that easily becomes unnecessarily harsh, sharp, and cold.
2. You draw people with varying levels of intellectual ability. Some of quite educated, many are not. Thus, you have a diverse group of people who cannot even frame the conversation in the same way. We speak past or at one another instead of to one another.
3. Though the group is intellectually diverse, it hovers at low-average. Let's face it, intelligent people don't have time for excessive involvement in chat rooms or discussion threads. Smart students are busy studying, smart employees are busy working, and smart ministers are busy ministering. Because the personal is removed (see #1), the focus is only on the content. This becomes a problem when the majority of people in the conversation are not clear, logical, and rational thinkers. (Note: this can be overcome by being much more selective. There are places online where great conversation can occur).
3. The participants have gathered to talk, not to listen. No one goes to a chat room to learn, and few leave comments on a blog in order to discover truth. We makes comments to be heard, not to hear from others (this is true of all of us). Add in a little pride, and we have a whole bunch of people who could care less what anyone else has to say.
So, my advice to myself is "keep chatting--but be selective (and be a little more humble about my opinions)".