Hidden Power of Electronic Culture by Shane Hipps – Brief Review

Thesis: “The forms of media and technology—regardless of their content—cause profound changes in the church and culture” (23).  “The medium is the message” (29).

Evaluation: Shane Hipps, who began his adult life in the advertising world (now a pastor), uses the work of Marshall McLuhan to analyze how technologies alter culture and faith.  McLuhan is famous for the phrase: “The medium is the message.”  Hipps uses this book as an opportunity to discern how the various “mediums” of electronic culture are changing the message of the church.  To do so, he begins with a critique of Rick Warren who states: “Our message must never change, but the way we deliver that message must be constantly updated to reach each new generation” (29).  In order to illustrate Warren’s fallacy he takes the reader on a tour through technological/medium history from: ancient oral culture, printing press culture, to the electronic age.  In each of these mediums (following the lead of McLuhan) he contends that four subliminal changes are created in culture: 1) extension – what human capacity is amplified, 2) obsolesce – what is no longer needed, 3) reverse effect – what would happen if this is used to an extreme, and 4) retrieval – what does this finding rooting in from past technology (see 41).  Using these four areas, Hipps persuasively argues that postmodernity is being shaped because of innovations such as TV, Internet, cell phones, and radio.  He argues that all of these have led to a simultaneous dichotomy: tribalization and isolation.  Hipps ethical concerns for the church are several, some of which include: image driven right brain experiences are taking us out of the left brain exercise of deep theological/biblical reflection, creation of insufficient community, video venues are creating celebrity and deconstructing the message of humility, and amplifying consumerist tendencies rather than subverting them for God’s mission.  Nevertheless, Hipps points the reader to hope, in that our awareness and suspicion of how the electronic age shapes us can be a key in discovering the kind of message the church (God’s medium) will embody as we navigate through postmodernity.

Helpful Insights:

  • Media is not good, evil, or neutral (23) … mediums shape belief (27)
  • Every media is an extension of humanity as it amplifies part of us, ear eyes etc. (34)
  • Phonetic Western alphabet led to linear, fragmented, sequential forms of logic (49)
  • Our current culture is returning to images, which is activating Eastern thought (50)
  • Printing press = Modernism: Extended-personal relationship, Obsolesces-community, Reverses Into-reductionism, Retrieves-Paul’s epistles (60) …Postmodern culture is a tribe of individuals (72)
  • The church is God’s chosen medium for the sake of the world (91-93)
  • Image overload leads to numbness toward injustice, which leads to inaction (109)
  • Leaders must use left-brain capacity to learn/teach Scripture with goal of sharing its authority with the community rather than becoming part of hierarchy (133)
  • “Mac” approach to church rethinks its theological operating system, “PC” approach attempts to add to its theology methods that appear innovative perpetuating consumerism (146ff)
  • Emerging worship can perpetuate consumerism without intentionality for communal practices (158)

Response: This book comes to me at the right time.  I am a leader in a church that is wrestling with questions of praxis in this postmodern climate.  We are moving to a multisite model of ministry, and the question of using technology for video venues is one that has been quite involved.  Hipps not only speaks directly to that situation, but gives ethical parameters for thinking about technology with life-giving scrutiny.  Another area that fascinated me was the way in which popular culture and the worldview of the church interplay.  For instance, the printing press is an invention that I have often thought led to individualism; but never before had I seen how it deeply shaped the theology of the reformers and now the “neo-reformed” church.  Finally, this book is causing me to take another step back and to begin thinking about how various mediums may be shaping my approach to both faith and life.  Am I living a disembodied pseudo-tribalistic existence?  How can I begin to subvert this tendency in life and ministry for the mission of God?

Do you have any thoughts on the ideas mentioned in this “brief” or the work of Shane Hipps?

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  • Erik

    I recently finished this book. Loved it. As a youth minister that has used technology extensively, I can begin to understand how the tech I use is teaching a subtle message about what we believe.

    What I’m most interested in is to see how the Church adapts to the psudo tribal culture of the Internet. Will we splinter as a body even further, or will it be a uniting force?

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      You bring up a great point about the internet. We need to adapt and subvert the tribe of individuals tendencies of our culture. If the web becomes the source of my identity… its time to fast as a spiritual disciple :-) Anyway, thanks for your thoughts!

  • http://www.iamdrinkingcoffee.com James Jones

    This really has me thinking.

    We become more and more disconnected from our church families as we ‘meet’ more via electronics than we do face to face. The only reason skype and video messaging has a great value is due to personal relationships prior to separation.

    I have noticed Bible study and spiritual discussions turn divisive more quickly among people on the internet than I have in personal encounters. Our anonymity allows us to not be as conscious of loving our neighbor in all we do, especially using grace in our speech.

    Then again, could bringing awareness of losing our connected community due to our reliance on media help us better handle ourselves as we interact with others? If we are aware that we get lost in media and not in personal community, can the awareness help us to remember to engage in meetings and not limit our connections to electronics?

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      James,

      Great thoughts! We must be discerning of HOW we use electronic mediums. One thing you bring up is something that I have heard Shane Hipps call “Web-Rage.” Most of the time we have stayed away from this kind of activity on the “groans blog” but at times it comes through. It is much easier to hide behind a screen and to get angry and lash out on someone with whom you disagree with than if you were in a personal ‘en-fleshed’ dialogue (similar to flipping someone off on the freeway when you are in the safety of a car). We must recognize what email, blogs, social sites, etc do to our communal communication skills and character. Thanks brotha for your thoughts!

  • Matthew Yoder

    Several years ago my friends and I headed up to Mars Hill to hear Rob speak, and found out when we got there that some guy named Shane Hipps was speaking there for the first time instead on “The Spirituality of the Cell Phone.” Needless to say, we were a little disappointed…that is until afterward.

    I bought this book, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has changed the way that I look at technology and the hidden power that it has in our lives that often go unnoticed. Honestly, I think this is one of those books that should be read by every pastor and every ministry student. You can disagree with his analysis of how specific technologies work – but you can’t disagree with the fact that technology does indeed mold us in rather unexpected ways.

  • jasonekk

    Kurt… great post… I would love to read the book and engage more in this issue. I think it would be interesting to think about the medium of blogs and how they change the message. Or, the role of “sound bytes” on the news channels (complex messages being reduced to 30 sec bits) and how they affect certain discourses.

    But, most importantly, in regards to your second to last “Helpful Instight,” is Shane Hipps implying that mac is better than pc? How dare he judge pc’s like that. They have feelings you know! As both a mac and a pc owner I think he needs to work on his prejudice. Instead of using divisive language he should use more inclusive and loving language. Even though macs are generally better than pc’s, I felt offended that he would make such a general statement like that…

    Besides my above (important!!!) oberservation, it sounds like a great book and I am curious about this conversation.

  • http://elmucho.wordpress.com/ Rob Haskell

    Great stuff. It’s a shame that “the medium is the message” is not a hermeneutical concept that has really stuck, since it is absolutely crucial. I do agree. However another area that is worth exploring is how new mediums open up new healthy and legitimate dimensions of the gospel or even of reality. Let’s resist dualistic thinking: Either the uncritical Warren approach or the critical rejection (I’m sure you’re not doing that). For example, I would like to see more people interviewing their missionaries via Skype in front of the congregation. There’s a case in which the technology would be extremely helpful and would do nothing but add to the mission of the gospel. The problem is that we are mostly not creative with technology. We just use it to do all the things the world tells us we ought to do with it. I’m interested in hearing how this book affected your thinking about multi site (just say no! – ha ha)

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Rob,

      Your example of missionaries interacting on Skype is an excellent positive result of electronic mediums! And, on another note, Shane Hipps has given a model for reflecting on mediums, but many who read books will be tempted to take these ideas to an extreme… Shane wouldn’t even do that! So you are wise not to reduce this to another dualism :-)

      On the multisite end… hhhhmmmm… At this point in our journey we will not be using video fed sermons. We will follow in the footsteps of our friends down at Mosaic in LA. They are a multisite community that has multiple teachers to speak in the various locations. This is the model we are adapting to our expansion strategy. More teachers are equipped this way and it doesn’t add to the already difficult perception of ‘celebrity’ in the church. Thanks for your thoughts and have a great rest of the weekend!

  • http://www.Charismanglican.com The Charismanglican

    I spend too much time online. Here is a short vid I just watched where N.T. Wright talks about potential pitfalls of blogging and social networking:

    http://vimeo.com/5682808

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      I have seen that video (excellent!), and I am trying to monitor and be wise about my online usage as well. I think that we can become wrapped up in pseudo reality rather than community very easily. Hipps suggests that we regularly fast from various tech. mediums as a spiritual discipline. He may be on to something with that…

  • http://perpetualanticipation.blogspot.com/ David Knepprath

    I read Flickering Pixels, which I believe is a more approachable version of this book. I got the same points, same thesis, as this post so I think it captures the gist. I loved it! Such an important awareness to have for the Church as we engage all forms of technology/media.


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