Program or Be Programmed, part 3: Live in Person

Find POBP part 2 (Don’t Be Always On) here, and part 1 here.

Media is biased outside of time. It promotes interaction that does not depend on the second-to-second interaction of real people but rather depends on sequential commands from those same people in order to carry out any of its tasks.

Media is also biased away from locality. It’s really good at connecting people and facilitating communication across distances (think of the primitive cans connected by string). Consider this:

. . . the bias of media has always been toward distance–that’s part of what media are for. Text allowed a person in one place (usually a king with a messenger running on foot) to send a message to a person in another place. To those with the power of the written word, what was happening far away became actionable, or even changeable. Similarly, broadcast media gave the newly minted national brands of the industrial age a way to communicate their value across great distances. Where a customer may have once depended on a personal relationship with a local merchant, how he could relate instead to the messaging of a nationally advertised product.

For all that, media tend to suck at conveying relationships and messages among people who share a localized space (however, the teenagers texting each other in the backseat of the same car, thus conversing without the awareness of the adults in the car, may be an important counter-point).

The “local” provides a homefield advantage. The real relationships that result from face-to-face interactions among customers or congregants are concrete things that add humanity (and therefore value) to interaction, and that can’t be replicated by media. Recent interactive media platforms like video calling can approximate that interaction, but as anyone who uses those tools regularly knows, it’s not the same thing. It’s not a worse thing; it’s a different thing altogether.

Churches often use media to intensify the local homefield advantage. Printed bulletins allow the whole congregation to say prayers and creeds in unison; graphics and video supplement music and sermons. But does that really do what we think it does?

Rushkoff refuses to use computer graphics to aid in the speaking gigs he’s invited to all over the world, much to the annoyance of conference organizers. Here’s his rationale:

. . . the reason to spend the jet fuel to bring a human body across a country or an ocean is for the full-spectrum communication that occurs between human beings in real spaces with one another. The digital slideshow, in most cases, is a distraction–distancing people from one another by mediating their interaction with electronic data.

Churches love few things more than a good distraction.

This is not to say electronic media ought to be banned from sanctuaries. It’s only to say that we need to know what that technology wants to do–facilitate communication across distance–and to think strategically about whether our use of that technology is actually doing that (Skyping with a far-flung mission co-worker, for instance) or forfeiting the homefield advantage that our being together in the same place at the same time wants to give us.

How does your church use media in worship or education or governance? Are you feeling a pull away from the local in your technology use, or toward it?

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