Saturday, July 22, 2006

Flickr: It's How we Ought to be

It is a strange world we live in. On one side of the planet, people are dying and living in fear of rockets and bombs. On another, people are recovering or dying from Nature's power. Here people are griping about the weather. But the fundamental truth underlying all these things is that humans are social animals -- how we treat each other matters.

Whether it's the hatred of one ethnicity to another that perpetuates a war, or the way strangers rush to aid the tsunami victims -- or not -- or the way we relate to each other in person or online in our daily routine lives, it matters, and it makes the difference between suffering and flourishing.

In this society where busy-ness is a sign of importance and an excuse to curtail personal relationships, online connections are apparently rising. There are many reasons for this rise, the greatest is the need to have a social web, to not be isolated. It's telling and very sad that the number of friends each of us has has dropped in the last 20 years. Twenty-five percent of Americans have no confidant. I suspect Canadians are worse off. It isn't because we're busier -- I cannot imagine anyone busier than a mother with a large family and few labour-saving appliances, working outside the home to supplement the father's income. Today families are smaller, appliances and services plentiful. No, I believe it's a change of attitude: If I'm too busy to meet up, then I must be worth something. And so online communities have sprouted to fill the void for those who do not get their self-worth from doing but from being. In a world of 6 billion people, there are bound to be others who feel the same way, and the only way to find them is through the internet.

It's probably also shrinking the planet because as Americans and Canadians and British and Germans and Malaysians and Japanese and Chinese and Australians bump into each other on sites like Flickr, they develop bonds. It's much harder to hate a group when you feel bonded to individuals within that group. Plus, for me personally, it's amazing what I've learnt about other countries, their flora and fauna, their people and architecture, from looking at photos by individuals living there, reading the descriptions, interacting through the comments feature.

Flickr is a site that values good relationships. It doesn't matter what we do, how rich or poor, our education. Instead it's people who are kind, giving, knowledgeable, supportive, encouraging, wanting to learn, with a sense of humour who flourish on a site like this. Photography is the way in, but it's the way people interact that make the site successful. Flickrites have created a social web, for some to enhance their own webs in their face-to-face relationships, for others to fill the voids left by friends and family too busy and too self-involved to work at keeping a relationship vital. As the Bible teaches, you cannot have a relationship with God without daily interaction with Him (through prayer, worship, seeking His will). The same is true of human-to-human relationships. It's too bad so many no longer understand that.

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