Throughout the last two years I have talked a lot about digital space as anyone might think of a physical building. I didn’t always think that way. Originally digital was this big nebulas space that contained no real boundaries. It was more like the wind then a living room. Over time I have realized that this simply isn’t true. In the same way my mind wraps around a physical room it now wraps around digital spaces. Granted the door is a bit more open most of the time but with some effort and intentionality you can pull an inner room out of what feels like and endless sea of vague unpredictable waves.
What happens is truly unique and I don’t know what part of the human brain does it but it’s incredible. You begin to resonate with a digital space in a way that feels familiar. Feels like home. There is a comfort in entering it. Stress levels drop, smiles emerge, and comfort sets in. Like settling into your favorite chair with a good book.
Comfort Spaces vs. Discomfortable Spaces
Our minds connect the dots in physical space all the time. Think of a space that comforts you and how it makes you feel. My physical spaces are my downstairs office, the chair I read in every day in our dining room, and my streaming space. I am in the downstairs office right now. It’s a small warm sanctuary full of some of my favorite artwork, some sound treated insolation to shield me from the noise of my children while I work, and a comfortable office chair that I grabbed on an Amazon Black Friday deal.
Now think of places that have the exact opposite effect. Perhaps that’s your office at work, the room you hold Elder’s Meetings in, or you dentist. Something in that space makes you uneasy, on edge, or stressed out. I am sure there is plenty of psychology behind these feelings that I am totally unaware of but what I find unique is that the brain has the ability to associate feelings with spaces that are digital in the same way it does with physical spaces.
One of the digital spaces known for its toxic environment that puts people on edge and stresses them out is a very popular game called League of Legends. We don’t need to get into its backstory, but the game is known for creating anxiety in its players.
There are a wide range of reasons that people associate specific feelings with specific places but many of them are linked to relationships. Your desk space at work makes you uneasy because you find your boss to be unpredictable and hard to read. You gain a sense of trepidation when you enter a church because of the spiritual abuse you experienced as a child. You feel at ease and carefree when entering a friend’s home because of the depth of your relationship with them.
Digital spaces can and do invoke the same feelings, largely based on the relationships you connect to them. Still unsure? Track your feelings when you open your email, when you scroll through Facebook (or whatever your preferred social media platform is), and when you boot up your favorite game on your phone. You don’t just go to those places for an endorphin hit. You go to them because they are familiar and provoke an emotional response. Some of those responses are because the space was designed to make you feel that way, and some of them are because of relationships connected to the space.
Perhaps it would be helpful to use another analogy although we must acknowledge that all analogies break down and one point or another. Consider walking out of a Walmart at night and looking for your car in the back of a parking lot. Perhaps you are not scared but you most likely don’t feel secure either. Now think about walking into your home. The comfort of familiar space, familiar smells, and familiar relationships create an environment that you feel comfortable in. As long as the floors are not littered with Legos from my kids, I can safely navigate my home without a need for a light. I know the space and it's comfortable to me.
Why is one space uncomfortable and unsafe while another is puts me at ease? There are some clear reasons, and I am sure we could each pick them out quickly. Familiarity, trusted relationships, etc. etc.. But one of the key reasons is the boundaries the walls of my home create. Inside of the boundaries of my home I feel more comfortable and safer. In the parking lot has no clear boundaries and therefore feels less safe and comforting, even though it most likely is just as safe as walking into my home.
Digital space is similar. The internet is this limitless parking lot that contains a great deal of unpredictability and strange faces. If you can’t put up walls that endless digital sea will continue to feel unsafe and unfamiliar. If you want to create digital communities and digital disciples you need to use a tool that allows you to put up some digital walls, maybe install some windows, and certainly install a door with a lock. Facebook did this great at first. It was a closed off community that allowed you to curate what you saw when you visited. Your profile was your home and you only saw and shared with people that you approved. There were some basic tools for putting up some digital walls that enabled you to make a little digital home. Over time Facebook has pushed unwanted ads and content from people that you are not friends with. They want you to expand your use of the platform but in the process, they have pushed people and ideas through your digital door that you wanted to keep out. The platform became less predictable, less safe, and therefore less trusted.
Here is the point. If you want to establish a digital community with your church and make digital disciples, you are going to need a tool that lets you construct some digital walls. There are a few platforms out there that give you some tools and they each have their good and bad sides. Altar Live is a great platform for a full church digital campus but you need to have a strategy to get people to adopt it. Facebook still gives you some tools using pages and groups and most of the world has an account already, but most of those people also hate Facebook. Discord gives you the tools, the toolbelt, the truck, and a tab at the hardware store but it’s confusing and hard to get people to use if they are not digital natives or part of the gaming community. There are some good apps out there in development and even a few like Carry Bible App that you could start using today if you wanted to roll the dice with a less established platform. VR platforms give you actual digital walls that you put up but not everyone has a headset (yet).
I hope this has helped you see the importance of digital community, digital spaces, and the tools you use to create them. There are lots of great opportunities to intentionally craft digital homes right now. Your live stream is only the beginning. Get your tool belt, a hammer, some nails, and some sheetrock. We got walls to put up.
Want to dig in a little deeper? I talk about digital communities and digital spaces on a recent episode of the Online Church Blueprint. You can find it wherever you listen to podcasts or using this YouTube link.
What do you think? Share your ideas below or on social media.
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