US Catholic Faith in Real Life

We're never lonely online

By Megan Sweas | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Roger Ebert, a former Catholic and an eloquent observer of life, has an interesting reflection on relationships, loneliness, and the Internet on his blog this week, and it struck me as someone who edits a website.

The Internet is a place for people can reach out to others and form relationships—to escape loneliness. While urging people of faith to engage others online, the pope and other religious leaders have warned, in fact, of virtual relationships taking precedent over “real” relationships. Ebert, too, warns against this. “A danger of the Internet would be if we begin to meet those needs without feeling there has to be another person in the room,” he writes.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel has joined the critics by calling for a “National Unfriend Day” on November 17. "Friendship is a sacred thing and I believe Facebook is cheapening it," he said on his show. (Even if the girl he picked on for posting too many updates to Facebook was a made-up exaggeration, some lonely people could have taken it personally.)

But Ebert—who tweets all the time, almost always interesting stuff—takes the conversation to another level: “Now I see that all relationships are virtual, even those that take place in person. Whether we use our bodies or a keyboard, it all comes down to two minds crying out from their solitude.”

As a writer, I appreciate the importance of words to relationships, whether written or spoken. And it amazes me that relationships, a sense of community has formed on, even if it’s awfully divided and people come and go. Read the comments frequently, and you even get to know the various “anonymous” commenters on our site.

Ebert asks a question that I often have about the people who comment frequently online: “But why are you writing them? Don't you have anything else to do?”

I write here, not only because it’s my job, but because I want tell stories, make people think, and raise awareness of issues that I think are of importance. But I have to admit there is some vanity in it. As Ebert writes, “Every day there are untold millions of comments, texts, and online interactions. Millions. And each one says, I am here and I extend my consciousness to there.”

Perhaps that’s what is most important to remember in all these debates about the pros and cons of social media these days: That behind each blog, comment, tweet, and wall update, there’s a real person, reaching out to you.