This is a blog to explore the connections between new media, authority, and community.
My original idea started with the thought that the reformation was enabled by new media (the printing press); and that electronic media may be having a similarly transformative effect on the church and other institutions.
I realize that this is a very broad subject — there are entire university courses dedicated to studying media, and the role of printing in reformation history is an area of historical study in and of itself.
Unfortunately, understanding of new media among institutional leadership is fairly poor; and there is a general prejudice that the subject may be beyond the reach of the older generation.
So rather than attempt to lead a poorly focused class in a subject that may seem intimidating, I though it would be better to start some case studies with older church members that may have some reason to publicly communicate electronically.
How this came to be
The idea for these two case studies came from a conversation I had over ice cream at Lowell and Ruth Detweiller’s house at Landis Homes.
Ruth has had my family over for ice cream before, and she invited Esther and Nels Hostetter over as well.
The conversation turned to computers, as that is my job, and Ruth asked the question (paraphrased) “How can I use twitter to spread my knowledge about mental health; and what’s the difference between twitter and blogs?”
I attempted to compare twitter and blogs; and I also noted that there are differences between print culture and electronic culture.
Why this is interesting
I was a college history major, but I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life working with the web. Since the middle ages we’ve transitioned from an oral culture with limited printing, to a print-centric culture, to a broadcast culture, and now to a world of hypermedia. I feel that we are starting something new, and at the same time, hypermedia is bringing back some of what was good about the old.
Marshal McLuhan has said that every medium has its own values. I’d like us to start exploring what it means to live in a world of hypermedia.
McLuhan stated 4 laws of media:
- What does the medium enhance?
- What does the medium make obsolete?
- What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
- What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?
In addition to viewing these case studies through Macluhan’s 4 laws, I’d also like to ask the following questions:
Questions to Explore
- Will her writing style be affected by the blog format?
- What sites will she find to connect to?
- Will she attract a new audience for her writing?
- What unexpected things will we learn?
- Can he link his data to the main Mennonite Church USA data?
- Will greater use of the electronic format allow him to create new analytic and graphical forms?
- Will more people make use of his data in its electronic form?
- What unexpected things will we learn?
Two of the points Jim made were:
- spiritual life draws on a community, rather than being a solely individual pursuit
- the purpose of connection is to bear fruit
The Role of the Story
One other point that I’d like to make is that stories are especially important in hypertext, just as they are in the old testament and in Jesus’s parables.
When someone tells a story online, it has the same immediate resonance as it does in print, but it can be amplified by links from outside the text, growing new
- You can talk about gender issues in the abstract, but you engage more when you hear a story about “A year of biblical womenhood.” When you write online, or share a link on facebook or twitter, you can directly connect them to the original.
- You can talk about peacemaking in the abstract, but John Roth’s story about his experience on a train in Germany or Terry Dobson’s experience on a train in Japan make more of an impression.
Unfortunately many stories told in print are not in a format that is readily linkable in their original form.
Credits: header photo by Danny Fowler (creative commons license).