The limits of virtual experience

Today I have been to a funeral – both a very sad occasion but also a wonderful celebration of a life well lived and surrounded by much love from a wide and extensive family and community.

I did wonder whilst sitting quietly in the Church which was full of people, how people who are only connected through online means would be able to participate in such a celebration of life. Is this one instance where the virtual simply cannot effectively replace the face-to-face?

Just last week someone said to me that within the next five or ten years, the Church of Engand would cease to exist. Evidently it is in such financial straits that it might have to ‘close down’. So what would this mean? Would a virtual ‘limited cost’ Church take it’s place?

To what extent can the virtual replace the face-to-face? Is there a line beyond which we would not be prepared to go or beyond which the experience would lose meaning without the face-to-face contact.

I am pleased that I was physically present, sitting in the Church today and seeing my friend and her family in person as they struggled with their grief but also celebrated the life of their loved one.


7 thoughts on “The limits of virtual experience

  1. Stephen Downes November 2, 2011 / 9:48 pm

    I think there will still be funerals, but that there’s no reason we can’t have them in the local community centre.

  2. jennymackness November 2, 2011 / 9:58 pm

    Thank you Stephen. I agree. I think if people are intent on gathering, then nothing much can stop them – but I hope there will always be a good balance between face-to-face and virtual gathering.

  3. Glenyan November 2, 2011 / 11:47 pm

    I often think similar thoughts, Jenny. Virtual place and time is great for the practical purposes of education. As communication technology now has everything up to synchronous time and with an eventual full spectrum of place, society will need to determine what the difference between in-person and virtual presence is for things like funerals, weddings, travel, entertainment, physiology and, well, human interaction, etc.

  4. jennymackness November 3, 2011 / 9:06 pm

    @Glen – thanks. I do know of a wedding that took place this year that ‘beamed in’ people from across the globe who couldn’t be there in person. I expect we will see more of this in the years to come.

  5. Jeffrey Keefer November 4, 2011 / 2:24 am

    Sorry for your loss, Jenny.

    You have me thinking about presence tonight. How many times are we physically near, but spiritually or emotionally or mentally apart? How many times are we the opposite, though the vibes or karma or energy or life force is more united in the great connections that exist, beyond the limitations of time or place or space?

    Ever cry when considering a favorite pet or injustice or tragedy in the temporal past? Yes, that is what I am thinking about when I consider how presence is far more complicated than simply sitting in a big, cold building with others. Virtual in this sense somehow does not seem to respect these complicated human experiences.


  6. jennymackness November 4, 2011 / 7:39 am

    Jeffrey – I completely agree and I think your question….. >How many times are we physically near, but spiritually or emotionally or mentally apart?…. which turns what I was saying around, helps to highlight the complicated relationships between the virtual and the physical. Thanks. Jenny

  7. Glenyan November 4, 2011 / 2:07 pm

    These thoughts are not unlike Moore’s theory of Transactional Distance, which seems to be shifting a bit these day, taking on a more significant meaning in terms of presence. I just saw a CNN article about people attending church via Facebook.

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