Monday, September 27, 2010

"We Will Never Be Typical"

Here is a campaign I can get behind - and I'm not even a Delta Sig!  A friend shared this video with me, and it is one of the most impressive fraternity videos I've ever seen.  It is not only inspirational, but another reminder that fraternities exist for some very profound reasons.  This world needs better men, and Delta Sigma Phi is offering a truly compelling vision for how to make that happen.

My hat is off to the men of Delta Sigma Phi.  Please take some time to watch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Online Fraternities? WTF?

I hate to do it, but I’m going to be an old curmudgeon.  For the most part, I have embraced our brave new digital world.  I participate in social networking, tweet every once in a while, and blog (of course).  But, I’m growing cynical.  It seems we’re trying to do everything online now, and I’m ready to start fighting back.  We have online colleges, online high schools, online elementary schools, online classes, online book clubs, online game clubs, and so on.  Every new idea in our world seems to have a virtual connection.

It’s time to recall the old maxim – just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.

About 6 months ago, word spread throughout the internet that a new era had been born – the online fraternity.  A very entrepreneurial student at Florida Tech created Theta Omega Gamma, an online fraternity with a coed membership.  Here is an excerpt from an article on the Huffington Post:

Florida Institute of Technology student Darrek Battle has founded a fraternity whose house lives online.
Theta Omega Gamma currently has 24 co-ed members who use the hub to socialize and coordinate service projects. Battle told Inside Higher Ed that he created the frat simply because nothing else like it existed.
According to its faculty adviser, Theta Omega Gamma is an average fraternity in all respects minus the "going out together and drinking" aspect.
Battle says he hopes to to help other schools start chapters of TOG.

I returned to Theta Omega Gamma’s website recently and there is a homepage, but no links anywhere.  I’m guessing the idea didn’t last. 


[UPDATE: A new web link was found: http://togfit.org/index.html.  See the comments section]

Was it a good idea?  Nope.  I give the creators of this organization credit for trying to base it around values and service.  A great number of traditional fraternities stopped doing that a long time ago!  I also appreciate that they wanted to create the fraternity that they couldn't find.  The spirit of the idea was fine.  But, the human element was missing. 

In the end, you just can’t digitize fraternity.

The fraternity experience is so powerful because it places members squarely in the emotional cross-hairs of human relationships.  Social networking sites can help you know the basics about a person – their likes, dislikes, history, Farmville needs, etc.  But can they let you REALLY get to know someone?

We really get to know someone when we can be vulnerable with them, and they with us.  Give me one hour with a brother in need, and I will know more about him than any Facebook page, tweet, or chat room could tell me.  For as digital as we have become, there is still no substitute for reading another person’s eyes and seeing emotions show in their face.  No smiley face can ever take the place of a handshake or a hug. 

Brotherhood and sisterhood happens when we strive to live out the values of our organizations side by side.  And, there is a lot of living that takes place away from a keyboard and monitor.

The electricity of human interaction is what makes our experiences so special.  In her book, Turning to One Another, Margaret Wheatley states: "Truly connecting with another human being gives us joy.  The circumstances that create this connection don’t matter.  Even those who work side by side in the worst natural disaster or crisis recall that experience as memorable.  They are surprised to feel joy in the midst of tragedy, but they always do."

And what about the good times?  Being together in times of laughter and fun is the true definition of the human experience.  I can laugh or chuckle at a Facebook post, and forget it minutes later.  However, I still remember some of the nights with my brothers when we laughed so hard we couldn’t sleep.

Go read online forums for an hour.  Then, go spend the next hour in an airport terminal and see how people greet each other after time apart (or watch the opening scene of the movie Love Actually).  You will see the difference.

Technology can help us do fraternity better, mostly because of its potential for communication.  We can keep alumni members in the loop, raise money for our foundations, have discussions on leadership and Ritual, etc.  It can add to the fraternity experience.

But it can never replace it.

I support progress, and forward movement in our world.  But I just cannot buy into the online fraternity.  It is not a good thing for our movement because it cheapens the definition of fraternity.  Fraternity is that moment when you choose to sit with a brother or sister in silence, just because you know they need somebody there.  It’s the moment when you stand at the front of church with your brother or sister and witness the biggest moment of their life. 

We, as humans, are messy, squishy, confused, terrified, loving, and hopeful baskets of emotion.  The magic happens when we come together – face to face, eye to eye, and hand in hand.  The wonders of our new era of technology cannot change this.

I hope the students of Theta Omega Gamma can find a fraternity that gives them the connection they desire - or perhaps that can create one that isn't online.  

I’m sure there will be other attempts at online fraternities.  Good luck to whoever tries.  They will probably just create a smaller version of Facebook or MySpace, which is great.  

But it ain’t no fraternity.