I jumped at the chance to participate in BlogTourSpot’s review of Shane Hipps new book: Flickering Pixels – How Technology Shapes Your Faith for two reasons. I was at a stage where I thought the clutter of technology was squeezing sense out of my normal life, plus I’d get a copy of the book for free.
The author’s background is in advertising, which has given him a unique insight into the working of media and how it is changing how we think, which ultimately affects how we share and live out our faith. The book sets out in broad strokes the insidious dangers that the changes media brings to our lives can generate, and by sounding out a clarion call, we can be on the lookout for them and avoid them as they arise. Several key points stand out
1. All Faith is based on communication – either from God to us or between us as adherents, and the way we primarily communicate affects our interpretation of our faith.
2. Each more ‘efficient’ means of communication we pick up has a dark side – it increases the propensity to clutter rather than clarify.
3. Media is not neutral – the message we actually get from communicating is both dependent on the message and the medium.
4. Pictures & Images (such as television) hijack our imagination. Words and printed matter however encourage us to generate our own images of the concepts being discussed, as opposed to being fed an image which in reality is one man’s interpretation of the words behind the image.
5. We have slowly become a tribe of individuals – sharing experiences on an unprecedented scale (shared experiences build community, a ‘tribal’ ethos) but yet utilizing the self same tools to build an illusion of closeness whilst in reality, it is only yet another layer of interaction, another screen between the real us and the next person.
6. For Christians, we are both the medium and the message and all other forms of communication should only be to facilitate that primary, face to face communication model, not replace it.
In addition to blogging, I’ve been active in virtual communities for a long time, as well as being the administrator of an online home for my class from undergraduate school. I’ve seen virtual communities both work and not work. The key differences between successful and failing virtual communities seems to be
- A defined role for the community: A place to vent, a place to collaborate, or even a place to demonstrate your coolness (which sadly is becoming more and more a reason to be in a virtual community these days). Being part of a community just for the sake of it detracts from the usefulness of the community as a whole.
- Extra – community connections: Virtual community “satiates our immediate hunger but doesn’t provide much in the way of sustainable nutrition”. Often I have found that the communities that succeeded were those in which members were communicating on a more personal level outside the context of the community, or using the interaction at the level of the community to sustain real life connections.
- A sense of scale: Members of virtual communities have day jobs – things they do in their real lives. Keeping the community going is dependent on being able to keep our interactions at the right scale. Recognizing the potential danger of clutter is key to succeeding. I found that out the hard way when simply reading blogs began to take over three to four hours of my daily time.
I’d like to throw out a few discussion questions
- How have online communities affected the way you think, act and maintain your relationships in your real life?
- Why did you start blogging and how would you rate your current state versus your initial expectations.
- Are there any real life connections you’ve built entirely from an online starting point and are there any you’ve lost as a result?
- How would you rate our own corner of the Blogosphere on the critical success factors for online communities?
Up for some more stimulating discussions? Join the debate here