Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Notes - Flickering Pixels

Flickering Pixels - How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps. Remarkable read, highly recommended because of the culture we live in and how we maybe hardly recognize it. Some comments in brackets.

Christianity is fundamentally a communication event. The religion is predicated on God revealing himself to humanity. God has a habit of letting his people know something about his thoughts, feelings, and intentions. God wants to communicate with us, and his media are many: angels, burning bushes, stone tablets, scrolls, donkeys, prophets, mighty voices, still whispers, and shapes traced in the dirt. Any serious study of God is a study of communication, and any effort to understand God is shaped by our understand - or misunderstanding - of the media and technology we use to communicate.

The erosion of memory is, in fact, a downside of the invention of writing; however, there is also an upside that Thamus [king of Egypt, debated on the value of writing versus knowledge] failed to perceive. Reading and writing have an incredible capacity to expand consciousness and advance the common good. Consider the Reformation, which challenged the corruption and abuse of the medieval Catholic church. This would not have happened without a rise in literacy among the masses.... Or consider the fact that free democratic forms of government have a tendency to take root and thrive in cultures with high literacy rates. Democracies demand that citizens have access to information in order to make informed decisions. Literacy provides this on a scale that a purely oral culture does not.

The belief that media are neutral tools is only half right. Marshall McLuhan, the oracle of the electronic age, reveals that error of this assumption when he says that "the medium is the message." If the first truth is that our methods necessarily change, the second truth is that whenever our methods change, the message automatically changes along with them. You can't change the methods without changing your message - they're inseparable. [Large ramifications to the idea of contextualization - the Gospel stays the same but is communicated differently in different contexts. This premise says that is not true.]

The broad introduction of literacy into an entire culture completely alters the way that culture thinks. Writing restructures the worldview of entire civilizations.

The printing press had been in existence in China for nearly 800 years prior to its European debut in the 1400s, and yet it had none of the same liberating intellectual effects it had in the West. The simple explanation is efficiency. The Chinese language just wasn't every efficient. Because each symbol in the Chinese language represents an entire word or idea, a dizzying number of characters are required for communication. In fact, that number could be equal to the number of words in the language - the Chinese dictionary has more than 80,000 characters and is still growing. The idea of using the printing press for mass communication in China made about as much sense as creating a computer keyboard with 80,000 keys.

The linear arrangement of pews in churches didn't exist before the printing press.

Printing makes us prefer cognitive modes of processing while at the same time atrophying our appreciation for mysticism, intuition, and emotion. It can make us suspicious or fearful of feelings, especially as they interact with our 'logical' faith.

The Bible presents us with at least two different understandings of conversion, and yet, depending on the cultural context, one understanding is always emphasized at the expense of the other.

The printed word creates fissures in the mind. It makes us prefer distinctions between things. Printing breeds a strong preference for categories.

The radio returned our culture to the experience of the tribal campfire with its shared stories, songs and banter.

If oral culture is tribal and literate culture is individual, the electronic age is essentially a tribe of individuals.

I find it troubling that so many communities of faith are in hot pursuit of these [social networking] technologies. The Internet is seen as the Holy Grail of 'building community.' However, churches will find the unintended consequences of this medium coming back to bite them. The Internet is a lot of things, but it is emphatically not a neutral aid. Digital social networking inoculates people against the desire to be physically present with others in real social networks - networks like a church or a meal at someone's home. Being together becomes nice but nonessential.[This reminds me of The City, which I have some reservations about. Maybe another post.]

To many adult minds, the digital land is a foreign country with strange languages, norms and practices. Parents are undocumented immigrants, while their kids are native citizens of the land and serve as interpreters and gatekeepers.

This shift marks the first time in the history of the world that parents have limited access to the world of teens and children. Go back five hundred years to the dawn of the print age and the situation was reversed. Printing empowered adults. It led to a more pronounced elevation of adults over children. It shrouded the adult world in mystery, leaving children on the outside straining to look in. A child wanting to access adult information was required to learn a complex code - phonetic literacy - which could take decades to master.

The electronic age changed all this by dissolving the information barriers of the print age. … This means even young children can have access to the same information that adults have.
[remarkable chapter Getting Younger on digital generations]

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