Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Presence and pixels: Some impacts of electronically mediated communication on Christian living" by Tim Bulkeley

Tim Bulkeley reports that his article, "Presence and pixels: Some impacts of electronically mediated communication on Christian living," has just been published at Review and Expositor (111,1, 2014, 56-63). I think you can read the whole article for free (at least for now) on the Sage site. HERE is the PDF. Here's the abstract:

The cultural changes we are experiencing as progressively more of our lives are digitally mediated provoke strong hopes and fears. Among many potentially striking impacts, new technologies offer new possibilities in mission. In particular, past difficulties in making good culturally appropriate Christian teaching available in developing contexts may be overcome. Yet we have hardly begun to adapt our thinking and Christian practice to this new world. The public reading of Scripture from tablets instead of print books has recently begun to provoke discussion. As well as practical concerns, the symbolism of such actions needs consideration. Christians understand these issues in the context of faith in God incarnate in Christ. Yet digital mediation raises questions about the incarnation of human contact. For all conversation is mediated, often by technologies. Some of these are familiar and so “invisible” as technology, like the acoustics of a church building, or writing on paper. Different media communicate a sense of the person communicating in different ways (sound, vision, directly, or with a time delay), and different people respond differently to these media. Our understanding of real presence needs to accommodate not only differing degrees of presence, but also different media preferences.
To give you my take on the article, I'll adapt a comment I left there.

Helpful facts, even more helpful reflection. As you might guess, I lean to the advantages (and inevitability) of the technological opportunities. Like Bulkeley , I don’t see it being a simple matter of one being better than the other. Rather, old and new media and forms of communication are simply different with inherent and potential strengths and weaknesses. To paraphrase John 4.20ff, our ancestors may have read and used the Bible the old way, but you say we must use the new technology. Which is it? The hour is coming, and is now here, when neither of those is really the point of the matter!

As for the part about the Bible, I’m imagining a day when it will be possible to have a microchip embedded in our brains. Would you choose to have a Bible embedded and instantaneously available just by thinking it? (Is this a fulfillment of Deut 6:8; 11:18 or Revelation 14:9?)

As for the communication part, Bulkeley does a good job of showing the potentials and pitfalls of technologically mediated forms. In my own experiences, I’ve had both good and bad. In part, as you noted at the end, it works to varying degrees with different kinds of people. But in defining “presence as a measure of the sense of relating to a real person,” I think one needs to consider both quality and quantity. I’m thinking of Facebook in particular. There isn’t much quality interaction there, but the frequency of it has enabled me to reconnect and ‘keep in touch’ with friends and even family that would have disappeared long ago. It also greatly improves the quality of interaction when we do have something substantive to discuss or, even better, are able to meet face to face. So, thanks again. I’m with him. (Figuratively and in a presence kind of way!) 
If you would like to comment on the article, go to Tim's page.

BTW, as another way I'm trying to communicate, I'll be offering a free MOOC in the fall of 2014 entitled "Survey of the Lands of the Bible." Within a couple months I'll say more about it on this blog, but I'm hoping to catch people interested in this new technologically opportunity.
Helpful facts, even more helpful reflection. As you might guess, I lean to the advantages (and inevitability) of the technological opportunities. Like you, I don’t see it being a simple matter of one being better than the other. Rather, old and new media and forms of communication are simply different with inherent and potential strengths and weaknesses. To paraphrase John 4.20ff, our ancestors may have read and used the Bible the old way, but you say we must use the new technology. Which is it? The hour is coming, and is now here, when neither of those is really the point of the matter!
As for the part about the Bible, I’m imagining a day when it will be possible to have a microchip embedded in our brains. Would you choose to have a Bible embedded and instantaneously available just by thinking it? (Is this a fulfillment of Deut 6:8; 11:18 or Revelation 14:9?)
As for the communication part, you do a good job again of showing the potentials and pitfalls of technologically mediated forms. In my own experiences, I’ve had both good and bad. In part, as you noted at the end, it works to varying degrees with different kinds of people. But in defining “presence as a measure of the sense of relating to a real person,” I think you need to consider both quality and quantity. I’m thinking of Facebook in particular. There isn’t much quality interaction there, but the frequency of it has enabled me to reconnect and ‘keep in touch’ with friends and even family that would have disappeared long ago. It also greatly improves the quality of interaction when we do have something substantive to discuss or, even better, are able to meet face to face.
So, thanks again. I’m with you. (Figuratively and in a presence kind of way!)

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