There’s a long but intriguing essay here by Professor Alan Jacobs that explores how the rapidly changing technology — from cell phones to iPads and Kindles — may have a profound impact on Christianity in the developing world. He draws some interesting parallels between the small screen (cell phones) and the big screen you find in megachurches (and, increasingly, in Catholic parishes, too):
Google has been working hard in recent years to maximize its presence in Africa, sensing an already-enormous and rapidly-growing market for Internet access. Google thinks of African cell phones primarily as business devices, but, especially in eastern and southern Africa, the people likely to have cell phones and to seek Internet access are disproportionately likely to be Christians as well. And of those, many will use their phones to get access to the text of Scripture.
Curiously, what these tiny screens do to the Bible is almost identical to what the big screens do: reduce it to chunks of one or two verses. It is true that the cell phone reader looks down, and looks down upon his own screen, as opposed to the upward-turning congregant sharing one big screen with many others, but the same decontextualizing effect is at work. Biblical scholars have long complained about the imposition of chapter and verse divisions upon texts that originally contained neither — the verse divisions weren’t generally settled on until the sixteenth century — but surely today’s largest and smallest screens have achieved the ironic apotheosis of this textual partitioning. And given the aforementioned shift of Christianity’s demographic center southward, in the cell phone and the projector we may be seeing the future of Christianity’s encounter with the book. As Christians from the global South and East become increasingly interested in re-evangelizing the West, these are the technologies likeliest to accompany and assist their endeavors. And they will bring a theology shaped by the screens on which they have encountered the Word of God — and in some cases by the controllers of those screens: those who determine what is seen, and what remains invisible.
Read more. It’s fascinating stuff.