Thursday, November 10, 2005

Welcome to the Digital Meadow

I've been researching how, using the internet, we can reform (as in literally "re-form") church by creating new models of Christian community apart from the "I go to x church" way that we are all so accustomed to. In my wanderings I happened upon a Wired essay that questioned the very premise I was working under:
You think technology benefits you because it gives you an easier row to hoe? Bollocks. The ease it provides is illusory. It has trapped you, made you a slave to things you don't even need but suddenly can't live without. So you rot in a cubicle trying to get the money to get the stuff, when you should be out walking in a meadow or wooing a lover or writing a song.
Fair point with regard to the walking in the meadow, wooing lovers & songwriting thing--who among us wouldn't acknowledge that we don't have enough of smelling the roses?--but the context of the point he's making is that technology has served more as a tool to extract more economic benefit for the capitalist overlords from us worker units, or something like that, than as a tool for improving the quality of our lives. I'm pretty dismissive of these kinds of arguments because it's clear to me that whatever the motivations of capital might be it's much more clear that what some criticize as a time-waster or an electronic lease is actually a powerful enabler for helping man to do what he naturally wants to do: reach out and touch beyond the barriers of his physical location. It started with smoke signals and carrier pigeons, progressed to messengers and postmen, leapt to telegraph, telephone and radio, then to email, then wireless phones, and finally the internet--a tool for communication liberation from physical constraints that will only be matched when we invent the transporter beam.

Until then, our ability to form community beyond the bounds of our physical location using the internet is almost boundless. The only boundaries that remain against the free speech of the internet is language, internet access, and government censorship (and thanks, Yahoo!, for helping to make that possible).

But this will not be without the naysayers, inside and outside the church. The Wired essay is one man's outside the church opinion, and here's the essence of his critique:

Look around. Our collective humanity is dying a little more every day. Technology is killing life on the street -- the public commons, if you please. Chat rooms, text messaging, IM are all, technically, forms of communication. But when they replace yakking over the back fence, or sitting huggermugger at the bar or simply walking with a friend -- as they have for an increasing number of people in "advanced" societies -- then meaningful human contact is lost. Ease of use is small compensation.

The street suffers in other ways, too. Where you used to buy books from your local bookseller, you now give your money (by credit card, with usurious interest rates) to Where you used to have a garage sale, you now flog your detritus on craigslist. Almost anything you used to buy from a butcher or druggist or florist you can now get online. Handy as hell, to be sure, and nothing touched by human hands. But little shops lose business and close, to be replaced, if at all, by cookie-cutter chain stores selling One Size Fits All. The corporations have got you right where they want you.

Of course there's a part of me that sympathizes and would even agree. And this man has a lot of sympathizers inside the church that will argue against the ability to form community outside church. But here's the thing: I don't really like my physical neighbors (their kids steal our fruit, they have too many cars and crowd the street, they have loud fights at night and they throw beer bottles over the fence when they have parties), I buy my "books" in electronic audio format for the most part, and isn't the choice that becomes possible with the internet better than the choices imposed by physical constraint? What if my local bookstore doesn't stock what I like, the butcher has a dirty shop, the druggist is an ass and the florist charges too much?

And what if you look around, what if you pop your head out of your rabbit hole and discover that churches no longer serve discipleship but the very consumerism that characterizes the rest of our culture? What if the best way to find new meadows, new loves and new songs for the Jesus-seeking soul is to actually drop out of church and plug into the internet? Then what?

Then we do just what we are doing. Welcome to the meadow; let's do some love and write some new songs.


At 1:05 PM, Blogger dorsey said...

Awesome. Now, when the grass looks greener somewhere else, all you have to do is adjust your monitor!

Unity, sweet unity...

Seriously, good post, bro.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger ninjanun said...

Let's all hold hands and sing "We Are the World."


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