In the present Covid-19 lockdown, the use of video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype has never been higher. They are powerful, user-friendly platforms, and they are being used by hundreds of millions. Yet, for all their power (and hype), these platforms are turning out to be, well, a bit ho-hum. Yes, they connect. And yes, they connect in a somewhat more intimate way than mere text or audio. But, as so many people are finding (with a yawn), these platforms still leave you hanging for real people in a real room.
In other words, these platforms are not all that they are made out to be.
“They leave us increasingly with a sense of loss.”
At Morling College, we are feeling this loss as much as other colleges. Our on-campus classes are no longer on campus. Instead they are being conducted via Zoom. And so are our staff meetings, and prayer meetings, and even our morning teas. We are connecting via screen, and only via screen (sigh).
Don’t get me wrong. In the present circumstances, we are very grateful for Zoom. And there have even been unexpected benefits.
“We are forging new relationships, because the new media bring us into contact with individuals we might not have otherwise connected with.”
We are also connecting more and better with a bunch of our existing online students, because now our on-campus and online students are more like one cohort. And we can be more flexible, too, because people can connect from absolutely anywhere.
Yet the loss is real. I am an on-campus lecturer—teaching Hebrew and Greek classes—and I am now teaching these classes via Zoom. And I am also the Dean of Students, which is supposedly all about connecting with students, but now I can’t meet with students in a real room. Everything has gone remote. I feel the loss. Even Zoom, with all its video power, doesn’t cut it.
That’s why I was so interested recently to come across a verse in the New Testament that seemed to capture just this sense of loss. In a way, it was surprising to find such a verse. After all, the New Testament is mostly concerned with other things than social media. But at the end of the tiny letter that is called 2 John, I came across verse 12, which said:
“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (NIV).
It is worth reflecting for a moment that in the first century (when these sentences were written), there was only one sort of social media. Letters. And letters were actually a powerful medium. Instead of talking to someone in the same room, you could communicate with someone on the other side of the Roman Empire. In fact, you could communicate with a whole bunch of people with the one letter.
However, despite this power over distance, and this ability to speak to many people at once, something was lost. And it happened to be something really important! It was the loss of the actual presence of the person being addressed! The remarkable thing is that this ancient letter-writer recognized the deficiency, even in the midst of writing a letter.
In one sense, of course, we should be forever grateful that the writer did write that letter, because we too can now read it 2,000 years later.
Yet we also need to recognize that the writer longed for something better—to be with his loved ones in the same room, talking face to face. Then, and only then, would their joy be complete.
Though our social media platforms have now increased in number and power ad nauseam, we don’t seem to have been able to overcome this most basic of problems. Of course, that’s because the problem is actually contained in the proposed solution! Social media, including video conferencing, only exist—only can exist—because we are apart! By definition, it can never be a solution, just a salve. The real solution is not to need social media at all. The real solution is just to be together again in the same place, talking.
Of course, in the present Covid-19 lockdown, we take what we can get. We use Zoom or whatever other social media and video-conferencing platforms that seem to help. They are powerful platforms, and much good, as I’ve said, can be had through them.
“But it’s okay to feel the loss. In fact it is healthy.”
The loss is real, and no amount of social media or video link will ever properly bridge the gap. Instead, like the ancient writer of 2 John, we long for the day when we’ll be there in the same room again. Speaking face to face.
Written by Peter Friend (Dean of Students at Morling)