I've seen many articles over the past few years lamenting the end of local communities, the "front porch family times" between neighbors and other similar events. Entertainment overload, the internet and long commutes are keeping us at arms' length from each other. I must confess that from my experience this is certainly true. I know only a few of my neighbors. Heck, I only speak the same language as a few of my neighbors. My street just isn't likely to be the source of great friendships and support groups as I raise my family.
Yet there's a flipside to all of this. Entertainment, internet and commutes are actually giving us opportunities to discover new communities that didn't exist a generation ago. Use me as an example. In the past few years I've changed jobs, moved into a new house and changed churches. There's been no ability for me to maintain a consistent local community throughout all of this. However, two other community sources have flourished: my family and the internet.
People often chuckle at the idea of the internet as a connection tool -- can you really connect with people through something as impersonal as email or message boards? Well, I say why not? For over 50 years we've all seen movies and read books that told of great romances started through penpal relationships. Even this month you can go to theaters and see "The Lake House", a film involving a man and woman who fall in love after writing letters to each other (across time, no less). If long-distance writing can bring together soulmates, why can't it bring together life-long friends? This happens every day online.
The JPFitness forum is a prime example. A few years ago I logged on to this fitness message board to learn about some new workouts and get some baseball training advice. I still go there almost every day, and have developed great friendships with many of them. This year was the first time I went to their annual summit in Little Rock and actually met almost 30 of them in person. It remains one of the most powerful and "real" experiences I've ever had, and it was with people whom I only knew through the internet before driving 500 miles to meet them face-to-face.
There are still many others on the forum that I've never met or talked to on the phone, yet their friendship is a significant part of my personal community. I've written to men on the boards about dealing with spouses going through severe depression. Jamie has written similar notes using her personal experiences. I've written, prayed and cried with men on the boards going through divorce and heartache. There have been joyous times as well. In fact, for the past two weeks I've been reading "Diary of a Wombat" to Samantha at bedtime, and the only way I heard about the book was through a friend I met on the fitness forum.
Usually my blog posts are fairly linear and have a point... not so much the case this time. I guess I just wanted to say that in this time of job changes, church changes and hectic family life, I thank God for the internet. Some people may use computers as a means of escaping the real world, but it doesn't have to be that way. If you are sincerely looking, you can find great learning and personal support through this tangled web. I plan to continue using it that way.