Are We Online Atheists?

Sometimes people treat online interaction like it’s a disposable commodity—fleeting, insubstantial and barely registering as real interaction. And yet, the things we say and do online are actually more visible to more people—and more permanent—than our in-person conversations and actions. What we share online is magnified, and it’s out there indefinitely.

The online me will live longer than the physical me.

We’re building a lifelong record that many people (not just who we’re talking to) are watching. People who come generations behind us could have an opportunity to see the entire catalog of our online interaction. Every caring inquiry. Every flippant reply. Every encouraging thought. Every complaint. Every word.

Increasingly, online presence is being examined as a sort of character reference. Universities might take a look during the admissions process. Prospective employers will evaluate your online behavior as a predictor of your offline behavior. And court cases have even used social media posts to show who a person really is by pointing to the things they’ve done and said online.

Lately I’ve been processing this and asking myself some tough questions. With the tools and technology we have access to, there’s a growing public record of who @BobbyGwald is. So who is he?

Is the online me a follower of Christ?

Bobby Gruenewald is. But how about @BobbyGwald? Do I see Christ reflected in what I’ve said and done on social media? Have I demonstrated God’s love in my words and actions online?

It’s funny how the energy we invest in our online and offline interactions can be in inverse proportion to their permanence. In person, we measure our words carefully, gauge reactions and generally strive to say the right words the right way. Online, we tend to lack inhibition and toss out posts complaining or making fun of something as if no one’s listening.

From day to day we might not really be thinking about our overall presence online, but if we go back and do a quick audit of our profile, what do we see? Are we posting every time we experience poor customer service instead of responding in love? Are we scrolling past genuine cries for help? Are we sharing what God is doing in our hearts and in our lives? Do we struggle to see anything at all that would even indicate we’re a follower of Christ?

For myself, there are things I regret saying and things I regret not saying. Opportunities I’ve missed, and times I should have just put down my phone. Why do we struggle here? Our reasons can range from fear to pride to complacency. Or maybe what we see online really is what’s in our heart—and Christ is mostly absent.

Striking the right balance is difficult. We’ve seen plenty of examples of people who seem more like robots than real people because what they share is closer to a broadcast than a reflection of daily life with Christ. But I believe there’s a balance between this extreme and the opposite—a complete lack of acknowledging God’s presence in our lives. If my future grandchildren look back at my online history someday, I’d like them to get a sense of the role God plays in my life. I’d like them to see genuine expressions of love toward people I interact with.

Can the positives of online interaction outweigh the negatives?

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