Today is the expected “big announcement” from Apple regarding the iPhone 5. As a person involved heavily in social media, this actually excites me on some levels. I think that any time a new technology comes out it’s exciting. This iPhone is rumored to have new features such as: a 4 inch diagonal screen, slim casing, faster chip, new adaptor, and the new Passsbook (a program that puts all of your gift cards in one app). Many of the functions of this new phone will excite.
I have the iPhone 4S and love it. It does more than I would ever need a phone to do. But, if I’m not careful, it can become an extension of my personhood. It can pull be away from the concrete realities of embodied life into an invisible space vying for my imagination.
After reading a book by Shane Hipps called, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture – How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and the Church, I became convinced that I needed to be aware of the dangers of various forms of technology. This doesn’t mean we become Amish, although they may have more to speak into this issue than we might have typically thought, but it means that we think critically about various forms of digital life.
The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture’s thesis is:
“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).
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:
- extension – what human capacity is amplified,
- obsolesce – what is no longer needed,
- reverse effect – what would happen if this is used to an extreme, and
- 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 holds 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.
Below are some of the insights that are helpful from this book (which, by the way is similar to his other book Flickering Pixels but a bit more academic).
- 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)
Finally, to get a better idea about Shane Hipps’ insights on this issue, here is a quick interview with him discussing the big ideas of his work on technology and the church: