Written by Dan LaValla
Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00
With rumors and opinions about Manti Te’o dominating sports headlines for the past several weeks, people are finding it difficult to discern the truth about the hoax and the extent Te’o was victimized. Some have found it easier to believe that the likeable and popular Notre Dame all-star linebacker and runner up to this year’s Heisman Trophy was part of the hoax as a means to gain publicity to increase his chances of winning the Heisman rather than accept that he was a victim of deception. After reporting on September 12ththat his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of cancer, Te’o began to learn in December that something was awry about the story. While Te’o continues to deny any part in creating the hoax, in an interview with Katie Couric on January 23rd, he admitted that he initially went along with the hoax for a short period in December rather than admit that he was severely duped nor had never met Kekua in real life and yet publicly committed himself to her.
Many are calling him naïve and questioning his integrity. In a television interview earlier this month, one of his teammates in defending Te’o’s character argued that having a girlfriend whom Manti never met in real life makes perfect sense given the demands of football and his class schedule. The question many are now grappling with as a means to forgiving Te’o’s missteps as a victim is, how far a stable person can allow a virtual relationship to go.
Sherry Turkle author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other writes (page 1), “Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the run. Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are vulnerable indeed. We are lonely, but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”
I know that you can develop online relationships, even in a text-only environment. As part of the first online cohort program at the University of Pittsburg (in the days before video and Skype), I developed personal connections online with students in my cohort. People with whom I would later remain connected in real life when we met on-campus a couple months later and one weekend per semester for the next couple years. But the broader question is that with the absence of real-life contact, “How far can virtual relationships go with respect to authenticity?” Is attending an internet church weekly as fulfilling as attending a church in real life? Does God see people coming together in worship online equal to coming together in real life? Can the members of an online church actually hold one another accountable in a virtual-only environment or do the limitations of virtual relationships preclude this? Can training future pastors and counselors, where interpersonal and spiritual maturity is essential for success, be done as effectively in an online only program as an in-person or hybrid program?
Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla