Wise Living, Online

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I am not a particularly jealous person. But in recent months, feelings of envy well up in me regularly whenever I do one thing: browse the photo website of an old friend who lives, with her husband and daughter, across the country. Her husband is a fabulous photographer and cleverly captions the pictures of their adorable one-year old.

The odd part is that I'm not actually jealous of my friend. I love my life and my own sweet family, and I don't in fact want hers. So the inevitable envy I felt when viewing the photos was baffling.

Eventually I realized that the photo site itself was the issue rather than my friend's life. Each posted album displays comical moments, smiley faces, sunny days. As I click through on my laptop, my table is messy and my two-year old cranky? And from thence springs the envy.

The photos we share online are usually of our best, happiest, and most attractive moments, though these may comprise less than ten percent of our lives. Digital cameras allow us to weed through hundreds of sub-par images, keeping only the best. Consequently the "posted lives" of others can generate dissatisfaction in us, when we compare them to the humdrum reality of our ordinary days.

I can't be alone in my experience with a jealousy that is fostered by our increasingly digital culture. Our "networked" world, full of innumerable benefits, also brings significant potential for sin. While sins like envy are as old as humanity, our new digital age has the capacity to inflame these in ways we don't immediately recognize.

Of course, the sin aspects of some areas of digitized life are obvious, like online pornography and gambling. I'm talking about more subtle, but perhaps equally damaging, avenues to soul erosion through our commonplace involvement in and exposure to our digital world. Beyond the jealousy issue, consider these examples:

? We can become more interested in capturing the moments of our lives to share with others than in living out these moments well. As an at-home mom of two, I take dozens of pictures of daily events? playing in the sandbox or decorating our tree. But once I've shot some photos, I can become more interested in them than the activity ? wanting to download them, fix them, and share them. Capturing moments can become more important than fully enjoying my children and my life.

? "Online life" often seems more compelling or interesting than the activities of our "offline life." I recently joined Facebook, a networking site started in 2004 that now has 60 million users worldwide. It's a lot of fun and a great way to connect with new and old friends. It also can be borderline addictive for sociable people like me. I've found that I would rather play a Facebook game of online Scrabble with my brother than play trains live with my two-year old son ? And if I give myself the choice, I will often choose the former. Even, I am ashamed to say, if my son is in the room with me at the same time playing trains.

December18, 2007 at 1:10 PM

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