Nathan W. Bingham
Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

Pixels Are People

Seven weeks ago (February 2012) the Binghams said good bye to family and friends and took the long flight from Melbourne, Australia to Orlando, Florida.

It has been a whirlwind seven weeks. The five of us arrived with only ten suitcases, having sold or given away almost everything we owned. No permanent address. No car for transport. Only a few toys. Try explaining all that to your three daughters aged five, three, and two!

Seven weeks after arriving and we own a car, have moved into a house—with the generous love and support of our local church that house is now a home filled with furniture—have social security numbers, bank accounts, insurance, lovely neighbors, and friends. The list of names to thank is long. Only God knows how truly grateful and humbled we are for such a smooth transition.

As a family, this seven weeks—and the three to four months leading up to it—have taught us a lot. But as one who works in the online arena, do you know what has really become more clear to me than ever? Pixels are people.* The relationships I had via bits and bytes with folks from the US while I lived in Australia were real. Meeting people here in person for the first time wasn’t the beginning of a friendship but the continuation of an already existing one.

Extremes — The “Evangelists” and the “Naysayers”

Working and playing in the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and other online “spheres” meant I already knew this. This Florida experience has simply highlighted and emphasized this point for me. Pixels are people.

There are two extremes out there to beware of. Nothing I write here is advocating for either camp. On one extreme there are those technology “evangelists” who so humanize online connections that they neglect face to face, offline relationships. The other extreme are those technology “naysayers” who almost demonize online connections considering them without worth. Don’t mistake ignorance and fear for wisdom, and at the same time don’t mistake desensitization for a mature conscience.

Two Reasons Why It’s Important to Remember “Pixels are People”

Pixels are not pixels—they’re people. No engagement that you have online, or lack thereof, remains solely online. Those pixels on a screen are read by flesh and blood. They translate, quickly, into real feelings and responses. Pixels are people, and here are two real-world examples to illustrate why it’s important to remember this.

Pixels Are Consumers

The online and social media world is full of pixels. Whether they come in the form of emails, hits to your website, or tweets, these pixels are people—and people are consumers. First (web) impressions count, and your poor web presence results in real consumers who won’t (or can’t) order your products online and who won’t walk into your store. You ignoring them on Twitter or abandoning your Facebook Page frustrates that consumer who will then tell their friends—and they’ll tell their friends in cyberspace and in person, too. Don’t forget the consequences of them telling their friends online. Negative reviews and comments posted online are hard to remove. Years after an event there may still be people not visiting your restaurant because they read that one negative review.

Remember, pixels are consumers.

Pixels Are Souls

The online and social media world is full of pixels. Whether they are your friends (or friends of friends) on Facebook, followers on Twitter, or readers of your blog, these pixels are souls. The souls watch what you do, what you “Like,” and what you say. They read what you say to other Christians! Would an outsider’s view of the “Christian” blogosphere be an overwhelming sense that these people, these followers of Jesus, love each other? I read John 13:35 and it leads me to repentance. Do our interactions reflect a people who have a love for God and a genuine love and concern for non-Christians?

The online and social media world isn’t a total barren wasteland. God is at work. There are many testimonies of pixels who first heard the gospel online, or were challenged to walk into a church building, or were given the resources to leave a cult, or were given the instruction to see that their “Christianity” was devoid of Christ and the gospel.

Remember, for eternal reasons, pixels are souls.

Meeting Face to Face Was Better

This is an important qualifier. You see, meeting my American friends face to face was better than emails, tweets, and Skype; it was a superlative moment.

John writes in 2 John 1:12

“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

John wasn’t saying there is something wrong with paper and ink, or pixels for that matter, but he knew face to face was the superlative. A prompt response on Twitter from a local restaurant doesn’t trump the quality food and good service you get when you eat there…or make up for the poor food and service. Nor does the live stream of a conference or a podcast of your favorite preacher trump being connected and accountable in a local church.

*I believe it was Ed Stetzer—in a helpful article—who first used the phrase, “from pixels to people.”