Rushkoff to Google: Don’t Give Up on The Humans

Douglas Rushkoff gave a Program or Be Programmed talk at Google last fall, and the video of it is on his blog. It’s embedded below, but I’ve extracted the juiciest quotes, which churchy commentary interspersed.

“Computers are essentially anything machines.”

“After I had played with Basic for the first time, I looked at the New York city streets and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a grid pattern not because cities grow up into grids but because someone in history decided to make this a grid. And for a 12 or 13 year old that’s a profound moment, and it’s a moment that most people don’t have very often, if at all.”

Likewise, the congregation, the presbytery, the synod, and any nationally organized religious denomination is there because people in history decided to make it that way. The Christian congregation is modeled on the post-temple Jewish synagogue, which was a response to a particular historical situation. The model for it isn’t in the Bible. And the further up the associational pyramid you go, the more abstract and theoretical the decisions have been that the structure should be that way. North American Christians should all recognize this and be able to spot the biases of the structures that frame their religious participation.

“When I say, ‘program or be programmed,’ I don’t mean it just as a metaphor.”

“You wouldn’t know what an operating system was if there was only one operating system.”

The same is true of religion, isn’t it? Or of any theological construct within a religious tradition? My recent anxiety over the encounter of the youth from my quasi-liberal church with evangelical camp culture illustrates this. I want my kids to recognize that the altar call is an operating system programmed with a certain bias, just like the hymns they sing on Sunday.

“This media is biased towards binary logic, which then leads to polar conversation, which then polarizes the political landscape.”

“I so don’t care about what technology is doing to us. I care about what we’re doing to one another through technology. Technology is not doing anything to you. It’s people that are doing things to you.”

Every theory of technology has a hidden doctrine of humanity.

“Everything in the digital space is basically a snap-to grid in one way or another. You’re here or you’re here.”

“Just because you have more choices doesn’t mean you have more agency. It just means you have a wider number of choices.”

“The fact that you can keep going forever means that it doesn’t actually work.”

This pertains to the economic model of making money by getting closer and closer in what you do to the actual making of money. Abstraction is lucrative. Aggregation is the new content creation. So why not aggregate the aggregators? The problem is that with each step you get further from the creation of any real value until you have a culture of people who no longer know how to create it. How do churches help Christians actually create value in the world and not just combine and distribute value they got somewhere else?

“The more anonymity is an aberrant behavior, the better off we are.”

“The biases of our technologies matter. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, right? But guns are more biased towards killing than pillows.”

So what is the bias of the typical mainline protestant congregation? The top 15 megachurches in the United States have an 80% turnover rate. Scads of people come once or twice but don’t dig in for the long haul. That’s a bias toward occasional non-committal participation. What about your typical Methodist or Presbyterian church in anywhere, USA?

What Would Google Do

The Apple Church Is Just That Good: What Would Google Do? pt. 4

So I’ve been hearing these rumors about an iPad . . .

Another Apple product launch, another cultural phenomenon. Cupertino’s lovers love it. Their haters hate it. It’s success is indisputable. When was the last time a consumer product captured the cultural imagination like this?

Oh yeah, the iPhone.

Apple is the anti-Google, and their reign over all things networked really has no serious challenger. So why wasn’t this event called, “Theology after Apple?” Why not, “What Would Apple Do?”

In fact, Apple is the only anti-Google Jeff Jarvis could come up with. Not even God, he insists, is “immune from the power and influence of Google.” Evidence? How about open-Source Judaism, inspired by Douglas Rushkoff’s Nothing Sacred (“wasn’t the Talmud the world’s first wiki?”)?

No, only Apple seems to be exempt from the consequences of refusal to collaborate, to design platforms, open up, eschew advertising, and think distributed in the post-Google world. Jarvis ticks off the offenses:

Apple is the opposite of collaborative.

Apple still spends a fortune in advertising.

Apple is the farthest thing from transparent.

Apple abhors openness.

So why, if such Google-intransigence has buried entire industries, does Apple get a pass? Why does the brand still kill its competition? For Jarvis it’s simple: “It’s just that good. It’s vision is strong and its products even better.”

You’ve been to the Apple church, right? Impeccably manicured grounds; stirring worship aided by professional sound and lighting technicians; clear, concise, simple sermons with easy-to-use life application; unequivocally “Biblical” theology; a lifestyle niche small group ministry; slick branded merchandise, from Bibles to bumper stickers; youth recreation facilities to make Leslie Knope green with envy.

The Apple church is just that good. It’s has a clear vision articulated by a revered and unchallenged¬† executive. Its products are simply excellent.

That’s a straw man of a setup, I know. You’re meant to start pointing out the Apple church’s flaws. But, like Apple, it doesn’t care about its detractors. It’s thriving, and the future is bright. And for those of us trying, from within Emergent or mainline Protestant or Catholic traditions to get our heads around a “Googley” church, the success of Apple church is an unsettling counterpoint.

What Would Google Do

The Distributed Church: What Would Google Do?

I snagged a free copy of Jeff Jarvis’s “What Would Google Do?” at the Theology After Google event earlier this week. I want to interact with some of the main ideas in the book and extend them into church life and practice.

One of the major things that Jarvis praises about Google is its distribution. Google makes 1/3 of it’s revenue from sources completely away from The company puts itself in the middle of lots of other networks and lets its users to its work for it. That’s by way of contrast to the AOL’s and Yahoo’s of the media landscape who still spend lots of advertising dollars trying to persuade consumers to come to them, to their sites and their products. Google just goes to them.

So church isn’t a business (let that be the last time I say that). But Jarvis quite consciously includes “religious organizations” alongside businesses, schools, and other cultural entities that should take a cue from the red-green-yellow-and blue. What does Google-style distribution look like in churches?

For starters, if we’re looking for it in churches, we won’t find it. That’s the point: distribution is away from whatever is doing the distributing.¬† So how about this: the parent of a middle school youth tells the Youth Pastor that his daughter has said she “never wants to go back” to the youth group. The last time she came she brought some friends to an advertised “game night,” carrying her own board games with her. Only, game night turned out to be physical running/tagging/throwing games, and she and her friends just aren’t into that sort of thing. She was embarrassed.

If the Youth Pastor is like Yahoo, he will hone his publicity of events and make sure that future game nights include both athletic and non-athletic games. Those are important changes to make.

Only, if the Youth Pastor is at all like Google, he’ll also want to know about this middle schooler and her community of friends. He’ll ask how he and the church can participate in that community. Perhaps he reaches out to this student and asks her to organize her own kind of game night with her friends (and their friends . . . ).

There’s a whole host of objections that should be raised here: the middle schooler doesn’t need the church’s permission to play games with her friends. And youth pastors shouldn’t go nosing around kids’ social lives in order to influence them to come to “regular” church youth events.

But Jarvis’s whole point is that communities are already out there doing what they want to do. Google has invested itself not in influencing those communities to come to Google, but in going to those communities itself.

Surface, you have been scratched.