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?