In a short video interview with Shane Hipps at Out of Ur, Hipps says that online community isn’t “real” community, and translating the gospel into online expressions like Second Life constitute its “disembodiment.” His book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith presumably outlines his argument a little more fully — the interview (below) comes across as though real community can’t exist because Hipps hasn’t seen it and can’t imagine how to translate the gospel into that context. I presume he hasn’t read Voices of the Virtual World. Now, I readily acknowledge that there are some good and valid arguments for the conviction that virtual community has its shortcomings, and that these can be a detriment to fostering genuine Christian community. But I think he writes it off as invalid far too quickly.
John La Grou responds to Hipps, as does Scot McKnight, and like me, both to one degree or another take issue with Hipps’ assertion. Scot McKnight asks if he
“might just provide for us a full definition of ‘community’,” asking Hipps if he means “‘ecclesia’ or ‘koininia’ or something else?” Well put. And again (to give Hipps the benefit of the doubt), I imagine he offers more substantive comment in his book. John La Grou, freshly-returned from TED, suggests Hipps may have a bit of technophobia going on, and his apologetic sounds a bit like a straw man argument. “There is,” he writes, “no oxymoron or dichotomy in ‘virtual community.'”
And I agree. The establishment of virtual community faces some challenge for its inability to incorporate tangible physical presence one with another, but by its same nature, it helps facilitate community more easily in other ways. Perhaps it’s down to how one defines “community,” but I think we all have enough working definition of the term to understand what’s being said here. At one time I would have thought virtual community to be something exceptionally difficult to establish, if it were possible at all. Of course, that was before I saw it happen around me and became involved in it myself. Even if your tribe is formed online, it’s still a tribe.
Grammatically speaking, “Internet” is a proper noun, to be capitalized regardless where it occurs in a sentence. This is so because “the Internet” is a place, and even though its essence is not found in a physical space, it it no less a place. Call it “Church 2.0” or not — real relationships occur in this place, and relationships are the basis of community.