A busy road brought to a standstill by a road accident on a Saturday evening.
This was the recent scene on the Euston Road in London, a collision between a motor bike and a black cab resulted in a ferocious fire in the midst of the traffic. The police had sealed off the area, the fire brigade were putting out the fire and ambulances raced to the scene. Some 500 yards further along the road there had been another accident. This time a bus had been emptied with the body of the person being tied to a stretcher as paramedics moved to take him to hospital.
The reaction of passers-bye to these two scenes was remarkable to behold, straining to get a closer look, camera phones at the ready to snap a shot of the gory scenes. No doubt any resulting images were quickly uploaded on You tube for the whole world to see. No privacy here. It was as if human emotion had been suspended in some sort of reality TV take on the tragedies.
This strange disconnected ness is particularly apparent in London, where people spend much time rushing around from pillar to post, many not knowing why.
On the tube, it is remarkable to observe people plugged into mobile phones, lap tops or I players, totally oblivious to the outside world. As many will know, especially those coming from outside London who stumble into the bizarre world of the tube journey, speaking to people is totally taboo. If someone speaks to a stranger they are likely to be met with a stare as though totally mad. It is the unwritten rule that strangers do not speak on the London Underground.
Yet many of the same individuals who studiously ignore each other on the tube will share their most intimate details with total strangers via social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.
So there are the Facebook members who share details of their pregnancy scans or life threatening diseases.
Then there are those that seem to have to tell all what they are doing no matter how mundane, from taking the car in for a repair to what they had for breakfast.
A similar process can take place on Twitter with what is known as trending. For the celebrity class in particular this amounts to simply telling people what you are doing all day.
A few years ago this type of behaviour might have been considered a cry for help. Today, it is regarded as totally normal way to share your most mundane and intimate details with the whole world via cyberspace networks.
It is all very bemusing, in some cases no doubt it is a cry for help but in most it seems to have simply replaced more traditional ways of meeting, greeting and communicating with each other.
The worry with these virtual world developments is that people are losing contact with each other in human terms. The day to day contact and support that has been the bedrock of society down the years is breaking down. Communities are changing from physical to virtual reality.
Contact, particularly for the younger generations is often via the remote sphere of the computer screen or mobile phone. Though there is great value to be had from these electronic networks, particularly between people in different countries, they must not replace the more traditional connections of community.
There can be a strange trust of things and people in cyberspace, based on the virtual nature of the medium. This can be dangerous in a world that has no fewer predatory characters willing to prey on the vulnerable than the “real world.”
In this respect the Church has much to offer. People coming together in community each week to celebrate before God offers that very human link. The social networks ofcourse play a vital role in bringing together different parts of Church communities as well but these structures need to become part of community not replacements for it.
While it can be all too easy to start castigating elements of developments like the internet, there are definitely dehumanising elements to these structures.
Atomisation of people as individuals separate from any sort of communal structure is not healthy for society.
Churches together with other communal organisations like trade unions. social clubs and charities all have a role to play in creating the real physical as well as the virtual reality world of social networking.
It will certainly be a lot less humane world that breeds a generation of individuals who see everything as though it were part of a reality TV show, whether that be a serious road traffic accident on the Euston Road or having a baby on the internet