Jan 272010

Last week I was in 121 at a seminar/conference thing organised by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council. The topic was “Moral Maze on Virtualisation and Society” and was, ostensibly, a initial discussion into the morals and ethics of such phenomena as social networking and online role-play/immersion activities. The discussion topics were billed as follows:

  • How has virtualisation impacted on notions of identity?
  • How has virtualisation impacted on our values as human beings?
  • How has increased connectivity impacted on the nature of our organisations?
  • How has increased connectivity and virtualisation impacted on our ability to develop meaningful communities?
  • Is a regulatory framework desirable?
  • What are the theological implications of the changes being brought to individuals, to society and to organisations by increased connectivity and virtualisation?

This is all good stuff and very relevant in our technology-oriented world.

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Aug 292008

The internet makes the world a small place sometimes, especially when it comes to connections. Being a bit sad, I regularly look at the search terms used to find my blog and also keep tabs on who’s linking to me. Well, a new link popped up today from ScottishChristian.com. The page is ‘highlighting’ Scottish Christian bloggers. I’m not sure I’d ever claim to be a highlight, bit I will admit to being a little chuffed to have been listed. You’ll also find a few familiar names on the lists (hence the ‘small world’ reference).

This made me think again of Stewart’s point about the use of social media technology and my recent thoughts on it. This, in my mind, is where the technology we have does become useful. Creating links and sharing resources. Maybe it’s not ‘community’ as I would have it but when I noticed my name in the list of links then there was a sense of ‘belonging’. Maybe that’s at the root of what Stewart’s getting at – a need for inclusiveness, a need to participate. I feel ‘part of’ that group of bloggers because I have been included and I participate. Any community, be it virtual or otherwise, be it secular or Christian, needs inclusiveness and participation before it will really work. That, I suspect, is the real challenge to social media – how to make it genuinely inclusive and participatory. (And, arguably, a challenge within our real communities as well.)

So, it’s a small world indeed, and one that we can be part of, but there are challenges to be faced if our small world is not to have communities which are still a million miles apart.

Aug 222008

Stewart is currently mulling over a discussion topic for this year’s Church of Scotland National Youth Assembly. Unsurprisingly its focus is on the use of media and technology in a church setting. Unsurprisingly I remain to be convinced of its effectiveness. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s useful. Rather, I’m not convinced that it’s useful yet.

Web2.0 evangelists would have you believe that by making things, like the web, more interactive and with the ability to contribute then that is ‘a good thing’. Now, in a sense I don’t disagree. The ability to share information and knowledge is, I believe, a very good thing indeed. One of my own personal hobby-horses is theological education (it’s lacking and, what’s more, it’s getting drowned in a sea of voices usurping the language). The ability to educate, through technology has to be a good thing. But the big problem I see is that, whilst we are uneducated we are non-discriminatory. Everything becomes ‘valid’, information overload is a reality and rather than being turned on to education, many are turned off. “Just tell me what to think” becomes their mantra. In a Christian context this means not questioning economic policy, tolerating injustice or marginalising those who can’t cope.

The problem with technology is that it does those very things – it marginalises those who cannot understand or use it; it has an insatiable ‘upgrade’ appetite; it favours those who ‘have’. All of which are, or at least should be, anathema to the Christian community. But that doesn’t mean that technology is, in and of itself, ‘bad’; just that it needs to become more egalitarian and imaginative.

I believe that one of the fundamental works of the Christian church is to build ‘community’. Scripture’s repeated reporting of ‘God’s people’ isn’t an example of exclusivity, but an encouragement to be inclusive as we are, surely, all God’s children? Community means so much and it’s such a huge, all-encompassing term that I wouldn’t even attempt to define it here. In the discussion on Stewart’s blog, he suggest that the members of Second Life do have a sense of community. I’m sure they do, but the question is, is it a model of Christian community? I don’t think it is. It relies on pretending to be something/one else for a start. God accepts us as we are. Where is the irl (in real life) fellowship? Meeting virtually seriously undermines your opportunities to really get to know someone. How do you build a relationship of trust with someone you have never met? (And yes, I do note the implications of that statement with regards to a Christian’s faith in God, but that’s what the Trinity is all about). So, useful, yes. But certainly never a substitute for ‘real’ relationships. (Not that Stewart is suggesting technology should be, I hasten to add.)

But back to the earlier point of information v. knowledge. I was sitting in a waiting room the other day and the radio was on. It was the hourly news bulletin and a lady nearby was showing no particular interest until an report came on about a ‘celeb’ having been recently diagnosed with cancer. At this she cocked an ear, looked shocked and then somewhat sad. World events were of no consequence, but a ‘celeb’ with an illness was earth-shattering. But why was this even news? If you walk down the high street in any town you’ll pass a significant number of people with a terminal illness. None of them make the news. At best, such ‘news’ is information. But because it is presented as ‘news’ then we are trained to think of it as such. We become non-discriminatory and treat all information as of equal value. Then, inevitably, we ignore it because it eventually has no value.

Where’s this going? Stewart also mentioned that ‘tags’ are set to become a major aspect of how we deal with information. They certainly have the potential to be, but are just as readily open to abuse. Tags then become useless and we then rely on technologies to scrape information from web pages. Not so long ago Google got slammed for doing just that and searches for news ended up returning millions of blog pages and feed aggregators talking about the news and not the news itself. Where technology really needs to develop is in the processing of information. Or we have to become more intelligent and discriminatory in our finding and using information. And that brings us back to the point of needing to think for ourselves and to learn through interaction and so we’re back at community again.

As I said on Stewart’s blog, I don’t think technology is wrong, but I think we need to be a lot more imaginative in its use. In this respect I would entirely agree with his comment that it is through the creative misuse of it that will drive future development.

To address Stewart’s question, maybe what the church needs to do with technology isn’t so much jump on existing social media bandwagons but be a lot more creative in its thinking and drive new uses (misuses) of technology. But then that would require the church to be inventive and creative and radical and I think it would need to discover those things first (which it is doing in places). I think it has forgotten, in many respects, just how radical the Gospel is and should be.

Just to end on an ironic note. Earlier this week I was participating in a follow-up survey about e-learning being done by Dr Constantinos Athanasopoulos. He was most enthusiastic when he learned I use a blog for journalling (so if you’re dropping in from there, hello!). So I’m not a luddite really. I would just like to see technology used for the benefit of others rather than the promotion of some.

Jun 252008

Having been inspired by the theme for Stewart’s new blog, I had a look at others by the same person and decided I like this new one. The main reason I like it is that it is 3-column, but more unusually for a WordPress theme, it’s variable width and that’s just one of my little quirks – I like the page to fill the browser window.

btw – Stewart’s new blog is hosted by me. I’ve decided to use my techie background to offer web hosting and design services in order to bring in a little cash over the summer. If you’re interested in anything ‘webbie’, please get in touch.

May 132008

Yesterday was my second, and last. exam of the semester and for third year at uni. Not one of my better ones it has to be said, but I should have done enough for a comfortable pass. It was a bit difficult to focus on the revision after last week’s news – that’s my excuse anyway.

But now I have to turn my attention to more mundane matters, like work for the summer. Ideally I’d like to be getting more church experience and I’ve been offered bits an pieces of pulpit supply. It would be nice to get broader experience, but so few churches seem to be looking for assistants at the moment. I do have one possibility in the area but it needs to be approved by Ministries Council so I’m not holding my breath.

The other thing I could pick up on is website design. I was thinking of using (abusing?) the presbytery list to see if any churches in the area wanted a website done. I’ve recently put together a site for Falkirk High School’s trip to Malawi (which both my daughters are going on). Between my experience of WordPress and Joomla I can make the sites as complex or as simple as necessary. I was also thinking about Stewart’s post about ichurch. My hosting provider is able to give me the facilities I’d need to implement a similar scheme and there are one or two domain names available that would be useful. My concern about that though is the longer term support, especially since ichurch is a one-off fee.

Before I get embroiled in that though I have a few things to sort out like a labyrinth for Crossover.

But maybe I should behave like a real student and go and sleep on it.

Mar 082008

… and too little time to read it.

Much as I’ve only really dipped my toe in the vast blogging pool that exists, I’ve quite enjoyed it. But it has a downside. There’s too much out there to read and I want to read it. To be fair, some of it is utter guff and some of it is very challenging and educational (I hesitate to suggest where this blog might fit). But I simply don’t have the time to dig into each and every interesting article that flits across my feedreader. And then there’s the comments! They’re a major read in themselves.

But I have noticed one interesting thing about the sites I tend to visit (I’ve added a few to my blogroll on the right) – I rarely agree with them. This is, in part, a deliberate strategy. There’s no point in reading stuff that just agrees with you – it’s simply affirming what you already know and you don’t really gain anything. But reading stuff you don’t agree with is much more fun (maybe I’m just a masochist). It challenges you. It forces you to think about what you do believe. It makes you dig deeper. It also, I think, forces you to be discerning. There’s a lot of stuff out on the interweb that is unscholarly, biased, ill-informed, misleading and just downright rubbish. But you can tell a lot about the integrity of a site with the way it engages with its commenters. The poorer sites will simply bash away with the “you’re wrong!” hammer. The better ones will recognise and acknowledge different viewpoints and engage graciously in debate.

Maybe that’s just a long-winded way of saying that if I add new sites to my blogroll, don’t assume I agree with them, but I do ‘endorse’ them (for what that’s worth) as being worth reading.

Dec 182007

At last, the true value of the internet is revealed:

Amazon.co.uk: Reviews for Bic Crystal ballpoint pen

If you have a lot of free time (or even just a little), what could be better than writing a review of a classic writing implement? Worth a skim read as some of the reviews are hilarious, but beware – you may find yourself being ‘drawn in’ with no inkling of how much time you’ll waste reading the reviews.