Here's a report on my latest experience on the web. I have discovered Facebook. If you are not familiar with Facebook, it is an online site that facilitates social networking. Wikipedia defines a social network as "a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of relations," such as values, friends, kinship, etc.
With Facebook, you can invite people to be your "friends" online. If they agree, you then have access to their friends list and can grow your network of friends. Of course, you can invite folks to join directly or browse established networks, but I have enjoyed "mining" other people's lists! It is a bit addictive. This discovery has resulted in some observations:
First, our networks tend to overlap with one another. I started out with one colleague and pretty soon found myself in networks that involved young adults, those who work with young adults, former campus ministry colleagues, and CBF folks. Very often, the same persons showed up in more than one of these groups.
Second, this is a young adult thing! Although I took a look at MySpace, I never really "got it." Maybe it was because it seemed more oriented toward youth (and that begins with 10 year olds now). If you access a college or seminary network on Facebook, you will often find hundreds, even thousands of Facebook participants.
Third, my list is growing slowly, but I must admit that when I came across someone with over 200 "friends" I was not envious; I was suspicious. Who has this many "friends?" Acquaintances, yes, but friends? After analysis, I discovered that some folks who work with youth and young adults use this as a communications tool. For example, those who supervise church camp staffers use Facebook to keep in touch and build community.
Fourth, this IS a way to build community. It helps people who don't see each other often to keep in touch with family news, latest activities, etc.
Fifth, most folks on Facebook seem to be enjoying themselves (to judge by the pictures they have posted)! There is a certain playfulness about this site that is refreshing.
OK, now that I have discovered Facebook, I am sure that it will soon be replaced by something else, but it is interesting to see that folks do want to connect with each other in fresh, fun ways. What does that say to those of us in the Christian world?