What Would Jesus Tweet? A Response to #CNMAC11

Over the weekend, Anna and I had the opportunity to take part in the Christian New Media Awards and Conference. Transpositions was nominated and awarded the runner-up prize in the Best Christian Blog category at the Awards on Friday evening. On Saturday, over 300 Christians working with New Media gathered for the Christian New Media Conference, a day of networking, training, teaching, and discussion.

Before I proceed any further with this post, I must admit that, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a digiPhilistine, I am a digiNovice. I have a neglected Twitter account as well as a personal blog that hasn’t seen a post in nearly a year. And if I’m really honest, I am a bit digiNervous; the fact that what I post is available for the world’s consumption makes me over-think what I write until I eventually abandon the task. Perhaps I was an unlikely participant for Saturday’s conference, but the experience raised some interesting questions for me in what is becoming an important topic within theology and the arts.

As I walked into the conference venue, the buzz in the room was fueled by conversation as well as tweeting; nearly everyone had laptops open or smart phones out, sending 140 characters to the conference’s ‘hash tag’ (#CNMAC11). A ‘Twitterfall’ was projected on the screens around the room, while friends who had only known each other through their digital @handles were meeting face-to-face (f2f) for the first time. For me, the experience was typical of a cross-cultural encounter complete with a new language to decipher, new behaviours to decode, and a sense of disorientation and dislocation as I took out my paper and pen to take notes. What became clear to me over the day was the way in which New Media is quickly transforming human interactions. For this reason, it is an important theological issue that deserves our attention.

For me, the highlight of the conference was connecting with the scholars who are part of CODEC at Durham University. Revd Prof David Wilkinson and Revd Dr Peter Phillips began the conference with an apologetic for human creativity, specifically considering how the use of new media fits within a theological understanding of being made in the image of a Creator God. The conference then moved into break-out sessions, offering five different streams—Theology, Social, Church, Charity & Business, and Technique. While I wasn’t able to attend a session in each stream, the breadth of content was impressive as well as the balance between practice and theory. Those who led seminars were active participants in the New Media world and obviously passionate about the potential latent within this tool.

Viewing New Media as a tool was an underlying theme throughout the conference. There were three ways in which I heard this expressed:

(1) New Media is an effective tool for evangelism and mission, therefore it is important that churches do what they can to move into the digital world whether through creating a church website, podcasting, or posting videos on You Tube.

(2) New Media is an important tool for relationship and networking, bringing together people with similar interests, skills, and passions who might never meet otherwise. However, as the conference rightly recognised, this brings with it cause for thinking about ‘Digital Discipleship’ and whether there is a distinctiveness between relationships primarily developed online versus those that are face-to-face.

(3) New Media is an important tool for social change and becomes a way by which we can make our voices and opinions heard to those who are responsible to us – politicians, corporations, etc. The London riots and the demise of the News of the World are two examples of the rise of New Media’s influence. At the conference, participants were challenged to think about how to wield this power for good.

As any encounter with a new culture will do, I left with more questions than answers. I also had the uncomfortable feeling that what I have always defined as ‘real’ was being re-defined to include the ‘virtual’. Further reflection has left me with the questions:

  • Is the adopting of new media an inevitability for the church?
  • Does digiPhobia diminish our mission to the communities we are placed within?
  • While it is clear that New Media is a powerful tool, how do we keep it from replacing face-to-face, embodied interaction?
What do you think?

6 Comments

  • Han says:

    I met some people by their @name and then F2F within the same breakout session. The lady on the train across the aisle from me was going to the conference and although I had a vibe that I needed to talk to her it was only when I go to the conference that I realised why – she was there too!

    • Sara Schumacher says:

      Thanks, Han, for your comment! Out of curiosity, has meeting someone face to face who you only previously knew through the internet changed your digital interactions?

  • Michael Carter says:

    Perhaps digiMania is, in part, a matter of convenience. Face-to-face is sometimes ‘inconvenient.’ A verse that ‘moves me’ is Luke 24:15, ‘And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them.’

    • Sara Schumacher says:

      I also share this concern about the digital. Could you elaborate on why Luke 24.15 moves you? In your opinion, is there something in Jesus’ interaction that challenges/critiques/corrects digital relationship?

  • Emily says:

    Sara, thanks for this reflection. These are great questions and I’m not sure what I think, but I’m definitely skeptical of the actual value of interactions online (ironic as I comment on a blog I read regularly) and certainly question whether technology is a neutral tool.

    It might be of interest that Regent College is hosting the 2011 Laing Lectures this week by Dr. Albert Borgmann and the topic is “The Lure of Technology: Understanding and Reclaiming the world” You can stream the lectures live from their website (http://www.regent-college.edu/events/live.php), and from the summary it sounds like he has a very different view from New Media.

    From Regent’s website – a summary of the lectures… “In our time, the challenge is the culture of technology. Christians have been slow in meeting it because technology looks like a neutral tool that, far from being a challenge, can easily be put in the service of Christianity.

    This is a profound misunderstanding. Technology as a rule is always more than a tool. It is inevitably woven into a culture of inducements and compliance that looks superficially congenial and yet is deeply inhospitable to Christianity. Cyberspace competes with grace as the dominant background of life. Hyperreal perfection makes providential burdens look irritating. The displacement of material reality by preternaturally glamorous images dissolves the ground where the life of the spirit can flourish.”

    • Sara Schumacher says:

      Thanks, Emily, for alerting us to the lectures happening at Regent College. I have also been skeptical of online interaction — for me personally, I have not found it a satisfying way of building relationships. My tendency has been to resist it. However, it is where a lot of people are at and it is quickly constructing the world we live in. Thus my question about whether or not it’s an inevitability for the church… Regardless, I think any adoption of the ‘tool’ must be done critically.

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