In 1800, people could travel no faster than they had at the time of Christ. But change – massive change – was afoot. The Industrial Revolution has started in Britain in the 1760s or so, and technology was on the march. First came Fulton and his steamboat, then the railroads, and then the single most significant communication tool since the printing press – the telegraph. And then the telephone. And the first horseless carriages.
The pace continued in the 20th century. My grandmother was 11 in the year 1900. When she was born, most people traveled in wagons and by horseback; they could also ride in a steamboat or travel by train. By the time she died in 1984, men had landed on the moon and desktop computers were appearing in offices.
We’re still coming to terms with what this change in communications technology means to culture and society. Tim Challies wrote The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion to reflect on what the change might mean for the church, and for faith.
His point is this: No technology is neutral. Every technology carries both advantages and costs. And a second point is this: every technology has inherent biases. Some kinds of activities are favored over others. The form of the technology is just as important as the content it carries. Look no further than Twitter, which favors speed over context and understanding (and often accuracy). Certain kinds of information – quick blurbs – are favored over longer ones.
My church just started tweeting.
In less than 20 years, Amazon built a mail order empire for books (and other consumer goods) that drove book stores and chains into bankruptcy, and by moving directly into publishing it’s upending the book industry once again. Book buyers have an amazing array of choices – millions of new and used books, in fact. But fast disappearing is the personal service of the bookshop clerk or owner, who not only knew what books and authors you liked but also how your mother was faring after her surgery and whether or not your son got that college scholarship, and wasn’t that new biography of Mark Twain as good as it was said to be.
Challies provides a concise history of communication technologies (and you need the history to understand what the implications are), and then offers a series of discussions on what communication actually is, what is meant by “mediation,” and the dangers of what he calls distraction – how we seem to be unable to set our iPhones, iPads, cell phones, laptops and other hardware aside, or walk away from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or blogs, even for a short time. He also considers the impact of communication technologies on the family and on faith.
And he asks provocative questions, for which we will have to turn our cell phones off to seriously consider. Questions like, what does it mean when social media have an inherent bias for video communication, with its emphasis upon the visual and the emotional?
To continue down the road of distraction will eventually take away our ability to think deeply. That’s where he heads with The Next Story – to demonstrate the importance of thinking, reflection, and deep understanding, and who it’s so important for faith and the church.
Related: Ancient History Lesson