Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why new media matter in the Church

The post below comes from Bishop Alan Wilson's (the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham) excellent blog which you can read here


People who don’t get it about new media often assume that the revolution in communications through which we are living is driven by desire to play with kit.
Thus the anxious, especially those who do not want to appear anxious, can stay safe from any requirement that they change, by treating the use of contemporary media as a hobby.

“Phew! real change is happening, but belongs in the world of electronic hobbyists, so it can be business as usual for us.”

In fact, communications revolutions are always driven by the ways they change people. The invention of the printing press did have interesting implications for industrial design technology, but greater far was its impact on people’s attitudes to authority including the Church and the government. Once people could read and write, especially
en masse, the old assumptions were subject to constant critical scrutiny. And, as the dear old CIA used to say, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

The true implication of the printing press only took hold in the twentieh century, as costs came down sufficiently to allow information that had previously been privileged to flow all over the place. Information revolutions never go backwards, mostly because people have an insatiable thirst for information, and you can’t uninvent the technologies that provide it. One World War I song title expressed the rulers’ dilemma in the face of 20th century mass media technology perfectly — “How do you get them back on the farm, now that they’ve seen Paree?” But at least, then, they could try to control the media.

20th Century press was entirely free, as long as you owned a press. Now we all own a press, and we remain voracious information producers and consumers. We want to know the gossip, we want to know what’s going on, we want to be entertained.

Let me illustrate. Back at school governors in the 90’s we had controversy about making seat belts compulsory on school trips. We wrote to a local MP who assured us he was very much in favour, but the European Union, the square banana lot, wouldn’t allow progress on the issue. One governor had a dial-up connection and downloaded minutes from Brussels, where the UK had singlehandedly opposed compulsory seat belts on school buses, as a restriction of free trade. Same politician. Touché! Our dear leader was instantly outed for a bit of hypocrisy that would have been almost undetectable before.

What is called from all leaders in our new context is not necessarily technical skill, though the old pride that “Sunshine Deserts” British managers used to take in not being able or willing to type, an assertion of their superiority, is obsolete.
It’s about radical transparency and mutual accountability. We shouldn’t have too much to fear, for our Scriptures teach mutual submission, redemption, and a call to consistency of life (Holiness). These are not things for which clergy should be too busy (or not). I wonder if our feared deficits in these weightier departments cause as much gut-churning fear of, and resistance to, new media as technical competence or busyness. I hope not.

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