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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May 122009

rev.maxAccording to this report on the BBC, ministers are going virtual.

Using video links, ministers will be able to contribute to services in vacant charges or be able to be seen simultaneously in a linked charge. The minister can rotate their visits so that they are there in person sometimes, but they can be seen and heard every Sunday.

I guess the idea has some merit – I have visions of rolling out of bed five minutes before the service, popping on a dog collar and switching on the webcam in the study. But I wonder when computer geeks will get round to creating a true virtual minister, and of course they could be pre-programmed to suit the theological temperament of the congregation.

How do you ordain software though?

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.