Henk Medema

Death to Distance? Touching People by the New Media

It was, if my memory serves me right, the famous American humorist Garrison Keillor in his book Life among the Lutherans who tells about a character in a small locality. He walks around the village, observes what people are doing, smiles friendly, and summarizes his kind interest in a question: ‘So, washing your car?’ ‘So, strolling around with your kids?’ ‘So, tending the garden?’ These are hardly informative, but rather affirmative questions: by asking them, he shows that he has seen what is happening. Actually it is a reverse case of twittering: someone comes in and states the facts. Hey, is this happening? I see! No response is needed, a smile and a nod suffice. This world is a global village, and twittering around is but one of the many ways in which we communicate with one another. There are many other methods, like interactive websites (not the static ones which we used to work with, just a few years ago), blogs – remember: this is a blog ;-)), sending messages, audio- and videostreams. Hyves, FaceBook, LinkedIn and many other clusters of information and communication help us to reach and touch other people across continents, and if needed in outer space. The question is: how do we bring death to distance, now that the physical gap between people has been bridged by technical tools? Distance is more than mileage, as we all realise. You and I would probably have no difficulty to think of people living in the same home, yet miles apart when it comes to touching one another’s heart. A blog like this is rather short, informative, opinionating. It cannot go into the length needed for elaborating on a theme at a scientific level; it cannot go into the depth of reaching other people’s innermost being. But let me try to explore a line which is the core of communication: reaching people from heart to heart. Of course we are not speaking now about the heart as the physical blood-pump. Nor do I want to use it as a metaphor of the seat of emotions. The heart is the center of your human-ness. Out of your heart ‘flow’ the issues of life, as Solomon said, Proverbs 4:25. That means: it is the control center of each individual human life. How can we, through the social media, open our hearts, and build bridges by which we can really reach the other? Part of the discussion around the social media has been, recently, the idea that they are much too ‘technical’ to touch the other person. By definition they are media, which literally means that something comes between one person and another. Which, it is said, makes direct contact impossible, and creates a new world, which we call the virtual world, as distinguished from the real world. I doubt very much that this is the case. How any communication enters into the heart, is not the decisive thing. By physical ears or eyes or smell is not necessarily preferable to an electronic device, in which case, moreover, you also let the information come into your life by seeing and hearing and touching. And many of us always use mechanical devices, like glasses and hearing aids, to communicate. The way in which we pronounce our innermost being, and the way we try to reach out to others, that is the decisive point. Let’s admit clearly that digital media offer opportunities for keeping at a distance, or even worse: excelling in hypocrisy. But they do not force us to such an attitude. Digital media also offer the possibility, like non-virtual languages, of flexibility, responsiveness, even humility, truthfulness – indeed they allow us to express real love for other human beings. I need to admit that I am still a learner in expressing myself through the new media. But why should we not all be learners? Our Master and Lord is certainly willing to teach us how to communicate in this new territory. If there is any reader of this blog who has already gone into a measure of experience in this field, or who can help me to ask pertinent questions, I would very much appreciate such a discussion.

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