Yes, Online Community Does Take Away from Offline Community

by Paul on July 16, 2009

Chris asked another interesting question about this post:

One of the things that I wonder about is does online community ever degrade other communities. I’ve noticed that people tend to favour communities at a distance than ones they are actually present in. For instance if the telephone rings they will feel compelled to answer it even if they are currently with others. People also spend a lot of time online where they could be with their family. Not complaining – just observing.

Again, Chris, a great question.  So let’s jump in…

Yes, online community does take away from offline community.

Let’s be real.  We only have 24 hours in a day.  We cannot fully concentrate our attention on two tasks at the same time.  These are immovable realities that we all deal with.  Some of us manage our time better. Some of us are better at appearing present when we really aren’t.  Either way, time isn’t infinate and our attention has its limits.

So, understanding the limitations of time and focus, I am compelled to answer Chris’ question with a resounding, “Yes!”  There is no way around it.

But, to be fair, does any one community take away from any other community – online or offline?

Yes, they do.  Since people exist in at least three different communities (Fulfillment Triangle) there will always be some level of tension.  There are going to be times when one community demands more time than other.  Consequently, people in those other communities will feel neglected.  This is a natural balancing act – family, work, and third-space – that everyone faces.  It is part of life – online and offline.

There is a lot of information out there about maintaining balance, so I really won’t touch that here unless I feel I have something to add.

Chris, you asked about degredation.  I think any time you are not fully present with whatever community you happen to be with at the time – whether online or offline – you can hurt people.  That goes for family, co-workers, and online friends.

This is an issue, but I don’t think it is an issue of online and offline community.  I think it is a life issue that we all have consider wherever we are.  We just notice the online stuff more because it is new and people tend to spend lots of time with new things before they figure out how everything balances out.

Does that make sense? Thoughts?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris (The Bible Study Podcast) July 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I agree and disagree. Clearly there are only 24 hours in a day (and that seems far short of what I need). So as I am involved in online communities that time does have to come from somewhere.

But personally I find that it comes mostly from time I used for entertainment. Even when I watch TV I do so with a laptop on my lap catching up with email. Statistics for TV watching show that I am not alone in watching less or watching with less attention.

I also find that my offline community has grown because of my online involvement. I do more meetups, I reconnect with more old friends.

Paul July 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I agree, Chris. Much of my online time does come out of my ‘entertainment allowance.’ If I make sure it comes from there – rather than from work or from family – then I’m ok. My wife is really good at letting me know when I’ve crossed the line, which I really appreciate.

I will use TV shows to help manage my time online. I know that I have until the end of The Office or NCIS to get stuff done online. It keeps me from losing track.

Maybe I need to write a post about how to find the time to be online without putting stress on your communities?

Most of my online community is geographically distant from me, so we generally only see each other at conferences or when I’m traveling. That is good, but I wish I had a few more local friends on Twitter.

Thanks for commenting!

Chris July 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

I think I agree with you (sorry it’s been a long day and my brain is a little frazzled but I’m pretty sure you are right).

I always come back to the fact that the Internet is a network of people and the technology just provides the means to connect everyone up. Sometimes its easy to lose track of that point when the technology can be so enticing (I can’t resist a pretty button).

I’m also concerned that people see the web as somehow providing a buffer that allows them to be offensive or rude. I’ve come across a number of instances as a Christian where I’ve come under attack for what I believe but in a very aggressive and sometimes downright offensive manner on the web.

I’m big enough to get over this and I think this gives Christians a great opportunity to show what loving someone is all about. We need people who can answer vitriol with grace.

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