The Blessing and Burden of Living Online

“We used to live on farms. Then we lived in cities. Now we live on the internet.”

The world wide web has done many a wonderful things for us. The internet can create relationships, cultivate ideas and movements, expand options for bringing in income, particularly with flexibility of space and time, construct global communication, and raise awareness for current events going on virtually anywhere on the planet. I’m not about to bash the internet, even though social media gets a really bad rap. I am after all, writing on a blog that lives online.

But with all of these advantages comes a hefty responsibility that reveals a weakness in the human spirit. I often wonder if the internet makes things our business that don’t belong to us. Knowing about tragedies going on around the world makes us feel knowledgeable and enlightened. We rush to our timelines to state our thoughts and opinions. I want to show solidarity. I want to show mourning. But do you ever feel like it is an empty vessel of exploitation? Do you ever feel like someone else’s living nightmare is merely your Facebook status?

I don’t want to belittle tragedy. Tragedy is, by definition, tragic. There are things happening every day in every corner of the world that merit grief. And because of the global weave the internet has knit, we hear about it much more frequently than generations before. To have this awareness is not all bad, but it’s not all good either.

We react impulsively to a sliver of information. Whether it’s about politics, an organization, a religion, or an event. We read a headline, misinterpret the bigger picture. Is this headline accurately portraying its ratio of significance? Sure this existed before the internet, but never in the capacity it is now.

I’m not a saint. I read the fodder. I have opinions. I don’t have answers. I do have lots of questions.

I have a daughter and a husband. I live in a small community, even though it’s in New York City. I often wonder what good it does to deliberate too much on bigger issues going on in my country and world. I do not work at the UN. I am not a representative for my community in the government. Sure I’m a voter, but even that only gets you so far. Maybe it’s more important I focus on my direct neighborhood and family? I don’t really know what this means. To be honest, it sounds catchy, but I don’t know where to start.

Maybe it means being present and involved in local issues, like the fact that the demand for schools K-5 is astronomically higher than the supply in the 1-2 mile radius in my little neighborhood. Or maybe it involves knowing the people in my building, being compassionate to them in small ways. We can’t fight everyone’s battles. I feel like I live online but forget to be intentional about my present physical space. Which is a shame, because I am in such a wonderful season of my life.

Many react to this by ridding themselves of being online all together. For me, this is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

It’s easy to give up the internet and delete your Facebook. It’s easy to ditch your smart phone. It’s hard to use your online space deliberately and honestly. It’s hard to stop yourself from scrolling like a zombie, and rather to make it a point to use the internet for its virtues, because it has many. I have loved blogging over the years and connecting with people through ideas and beliefs.

So I’m going to try to be more intentional throughout my day. I don’t really know how yet. I’m going to try to be more present in my physical life with the people I see day in and day out in my community. It’s cool to see how much we depend on others when you live in a city like New York. So much of my daily life depends on others showing up to their jobs, stocking their shelves, driving their truck. My own job often connects me with women in a vulnerable time in their life, either pregnant, trying to get pregnant or newly postpartum. As the brilliant and candid Thomas Merton said, no man is an island. In fact, the internet puts everyone on the same land.

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So. That’s what’s going on in my brain space today. What are your thoughts?

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