The ironies were swirling in my head as I read Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps. Flickering Pixels is a book about the impact that technology has on the way that the message we communicate is received. In many ways this book is a sustained argument in favor of the slogan “the medium is the message.” Or, to make it more distinct, it is the first book I have read that is about technology that is written by a young pastor with an endorsement by a hip pastor like Rob Bell that primarily critiques, or at least cautions, the way that younger pastors so often use technology.
Here comes irony #1: The only reason I read this book is because I saw Blake Huggins send out a tweet about entering to win a free copy of the book. I like free books, so I entered myself. I won.
Irony #2: Since being made aware of the existence of this book, I have noticed that many people are talking about it in the blogosphere and many people seem to love the book… but I haven’t noticed anyone (there are probably examples of this that I just haven’t noticed) interacting with the ways that the book might inform or challenge the fact that they are blogging in the first place.
Irony #3: I am now writing a blog post about the book. And, while it has made me think about the limitations of blogging, I will not address that in this post beyond what I have already said.
Flickering Pixels is a quick read, and because of its subject matter, I would highly recommend it to anyone who spends a significant amount of time writing blogs, reading blogs, using facebook or twitter, surfing the internet, watching tv… if you don’t fit into any of these catagories you are not reading this, so I will stop there. Hipps argues that though we are not often aware of it, technology shapes us. It impacts the way that we think and see the world.
Quotation #1: “When we fail to perceive that the things we create are extension of ourselves, the created things take on god-like characteristics and we become their servants” (35).
Have you ever been around someone who has become a slave to their cell phone? They are unable (so it seems) to not answer it, even when answering it is incredibly rude. Cell phones, from my perspective, were originally created to be a means of convenience to the person who had a cell phone. Now it usually seems like they are a means of convenience to the person calling the cell phone. Hipps’ insight, however, has implications for every area of technology. I try not to answer my cell phone if I am with someone else. Yet, I am sometimes a slave to my email. The point is not that technology is evil. But we should be aware of its ability to become addicting.
Quotation #2: “The Internet has a natural bias toward exhibitionism and thus the erosion of real intimacy. There is nothing exclusive about it, yet it creates, paradoxically, a kind of illusion of intimacy with people we’ve never met in person” (113).
I immediately thought of facebook when re-reading this quote. But since I am not a huge fan of facebook, it is probably more relevant to me for blogging. I can often feel the temptation on this blog to get on my soapbox and blast away at something (I guess I just did that with the way that some people use their cell phones). And it does seem to me that there is a very fine line between the openness and transparency that facilitates an interesting and edifying blog on the one hand and an inappropriate intimacy and exhibitionism on the other hand. The hard part is that while some boundaries are clear in my mind, you may different boundaries than I do.
Quotation #3: “Virtual community is infinitely more virtual than it is communal. It’s a bit like cotton candy: It goes down easy and satiates our immediate hunger, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of sustainable nutrition. Not only that, but our appetite is spoiled. We no longer feel the need to participate in authentic community. Authentic community involves high degrees of intimacy, permanence, and proximity. While relative intimacy can be gained in virtual settings, the experiences of permanence and proximity have all but vanished.
I’m not morally opposed to cotton candy or virtual community. However, I am concerned that virtual community is slowly becoming our preferred way of relating. I don’t think the results will be any better than if we started eating spun sugar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” (114).
Irony #4: I am going to attempt to form virtual community by inviting your response.
What do you think about Hipps critique of virtual community? Do you find it convincing? Unconvincing? I was particularly interested as I read this book in how people would respond who are starting internet campuses. If the medium is the message it would seem to me that watching a worship service on the internet could communicate the ultimate form of individualism and privatization of Christianity. Do you know of ways in which internet campuses try to offset this potential shortcoming? Or does you not see this as an inevitability?
Blake Huggins said:
I see Shane’s concern and I share it to some extent, but I sometimes wonder if he thinks technology is more trouble than its worth and virtual community of no real value (I get that sense when he compares it to Cotton Candy, which is fun and tasty but has no real nutritional value).
Virtual community has been very useful and enriching for me. Some of the conversations that I’ve had on blogs, twitter, Skype, etc have been very constructive, helpful, and enlightening. That being said, I don’t prefer that to be my primary mode of relating to others and I think it would be a very unhealthy substitute for embodied community. So I agree with him there. We need to be utilizing every possibility frequency possible. Technology is one of those but not the only one.
I think this will only become a bigger problem in the future as an entire generation that literally cut its teeth on computers comes of age. The temptation to opt for disembodiment will become even greater for those who grow up with new forms of social media being the primary mode of communication, I think. And I’m sure it will only get tougher for everyone has technology continues to evolve.
Like most things, I think this comes down to finding a healthy balance that affirms that specific usefulness of technology while still maintaining that incarnate community is hard-wired into our being.
David Player said:
An interesting blog once again.
I have misgivings about virtual intimacy, yet I ustilize and celebrate virtual communication, efficiency, and effectiveness. I think social restraint is lost and authentic community is often hindered. I too think it has the power to seemingly satisfy, even addict or at least to consume persons. Wesley’s thoughts about not trifling away time comes to mind. I think our lives are saturated with distractions, junk diets, and barren busyness, while intimate prayer, transformation dialogue, and intimate relationships are all too rare. Lord help us to use technology effectively, but have mercy on us and help us to recognize your truth and return to your ways.
Pingback: drbexl.co.uk » Blog Archive » Churches’ Media Council, 2009 (continued)