John E. Smith, guest blogger

John E. Smith, guest blogger

Much is being written these days about the power of the Internet and Web 2.0.  Social media has become the new “place to be” and you can hardly breathe without hearing about blogs, wikis, Twittering, podcasts, and other tools of the online trade. The idea of a company without a website now seems quaint.

The ability to function in an online environment is quickly becoming a baseline competency for everyone, rather than the realm of the lucky few. You can find almost anything or anybody online, if you know how. Will Boyd’s recent NewsMuse blog posting was an excellent overview of the uses of social networking media tools.

Who knew “Google” was a verb? Who knew I could “tweet”? Who knew I would someday want to?

It’s a wonderful, brave new world out there in cyberspace . . . so why am I nervous?

I may have figured it out. While watching President Obama’s inauguration, I was keeping an eye on the update comments made by people as they watched the broadcast on the Facebook website: Obama on the left side of the computer screen and a scrolling list of online remarks on the right side, coming from computers or cell phones as events unfolded in Washington. At the height of Obama’s speech, over 4,000 comments were being made every minute. They ranged from poetic to sublime to mundane to just silly, and everything (even Aretha’s hat) was fair game.

I was “boggled” by the amount of information I was receiving. It was both fascinating and disconcerting. This was a relatively new sensation for me, so I considered why this was happening. Finally, I got it: The Internet makes it all visible.

Thousands of people having their personal reactions to an event, and I got to see it all. There was too much going on too fast to take in and react to, other than the general sense of so much thought and communication occurring instantaneously. While I got a general idea that many people were happy, I lost most of the nuances and details that I would have “caught” if I were with a few friends watching on TV.

This is the online world. There are an untold number of discussions occurring right now, complete with comments, rebuttals fair and not, on almost any subject you can name. Google a topic like “leadership” and the sites, documents, blogs, and videos pile up like grains of sand on the beach. Much of this discussion and thinking was going on before, but we could not see it, like we do now. The Net makes it all visible.

We may have tended to think that what we experience in our personal “bubbles” is what is going on. We can no longer indulge that fantasy. Life is loud, multi-faceted, and way too complex for anybody to have a complete handle on.

Hence my question: Is this visibility of human interaction created by the online world positive or negative for us?

I’m no techie, just a person trying to “muddle through.” Questions like this are important to me as the world continues to change at an accelerating pace. So I asked a form of this question on LinkedIn, a business networking site, and received numerous responses from intelligent and thoughtful people from all over the globe.

One of my favorite came from Andrew Thorn, a leadership consultant and all-around Good Guy, who said:

“I could not help but think about God as I read this question. He has the ability to hear and see everything all at once. Did you see the movie Bruce Almighty? Bruce had a hard time dealing with life because he got to experience God’s omniscient capability …. Somehow God can see and hear everything and still be present. That is an amazing thought.”

Yes, Andrew . . . an amazing thought! As I move into a world my parents could not have imagined, it’s also a comforting thought. No matter how complex our lives get, no matter what new technology or challenges come to us, God is able to cut through the noise and distractions to hear each of us, no matter how many are praying, or whether we tweet, blog, talk or just think, our messages will get through . . . all of them.

Now I feel less nervous about tackling podcasting.

John E. Smith lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is a member of Webster Groves Christian Church. He welcomes invitations to connect on both LinkedIn and Facebook (free registration on both sites is required to connect). His blog is called A Matter of Strategy and you can follow his fledgling tweets as @JohnESmith on Twitter.

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