Our Online, Hamster-Ball Life


Hamsterdam, portrayed in this stock photo by a Hollywood actor.

My six-year-old grandson’s hamster, “Hamsterdam,” loves his plastic hamster ball.

At least once a day he is taken from his cage so we can clean it, and is either placed in a wire pen we set up in the living room or put in his plastic hamster ball, which he uses to roam around the house. And… it’s reminding me of something.

Since he tries to climb out of the wire pen, which is annoying, we always eventually put him in the ball. Then we can forget about him, and he’s fine with that.

Hamsterdam rolls around, going from room to room, exploring, running into furniture, experiencing the lay of the land. Pooping in his ball.

Don’t get the wrong idea. We also like to handle our hamster, to pet him and let him crawl around on our shoulders, at least for a few minutes.

But our grandson likes to handle him a little too much, squeeze him too hard, and occasionally drop him onto the carpet.

So the hamster ball has become Hamsterdam’s “safe space.”

One feature of the ball is that it increases the hamster’s speed. When he runs inside the ball, it takes him from Point A to Point B much faster than he could travel on his little legs alone.

But his experience of our home in  the ball is virtual. He’s safe, but he’s also restricted. He can see everything, but not touch. He can smell food, but not eat it.

Has social media become our hamster ball?

Are Christians who are tied into Facebook memes or Twitter exchanges or documenting their lives on Instagram trapped in a hamster-ball life?

It’s fun. It’s fast. But is any of it real?

I have spent a lot of time posting comments and getting into political arguments with people on Facebook, especially during the pandemic. But I’m sure that if we were sitting in the same room together, not only would we not be debating, we wouldn’t even be talking about what we’re currently posting about. We’d be talking about something real.

Responding to memes or other people’s political posts is something that only happens online, in the hamster-ball world of social media. Within my hamster ball, I don’t have to be sensitive to your humanity, or respect your opinion. And in turn, I’m insulated from your reactions to me.

We can try to project the love of God or the defense of the gospel or whatever else we think we’re doing online as Christians, but we can never have genuine human contact except in person. Letters, phone calls and Zoom meetings don’t do it, either. Some people can pull off being authentic online, but I’m afraid I may not be one of them.

We are in danger of making the Internet merely our “safe space,” the practical structure  Christians use to say “Be warmed and fed” to the world, without having to actually take care of anyone or sacrifice anything of ourselves.

Hamsterdam sometimes gets tired of his virtual hamster-ball life. At least six times he has somehow escaped from his cage at night (he’s super-intelligent, and we’re apparently careless), and has explored the house on his own.

Eventually, though, he ends up on our bed, in person.

That’s when we know he really loves us.

About Skippy R

Skippy R is retired after toiling as a scribe for a large denominational newspaper in Texas for about 40 years. He's written for The Wittenburg Door and Beliefnet. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Mrs. Skippy, and leads a Bible study in his home. Mostly spends time running after his grandkids. He is -- what are they calling it now? -- a Jesus follower.
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