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?