Monday, 14 March 2011

Phone box or mobile?

There was a very interesting observation made at a church leadership conference last week which I picked up via a re-tweet from Pete Phillips on Twitter:
We are standing at the phone kiosk in the age of the mobile phone.
phone boxThis powerful image has been buzzing round my head for the last few days and triggering all sorts of thoughts. I realise that the image relates to the church’s relationship with modernity and post modernity, however, one thing in particular occurs to me and it is linked in with the season of Lent. In the lead up to Ash Wednesday I noticed several people on both Twitter and Facebook saying they would be giving up using these social media networks for Lent. The question that this raises for me is:
Do we still regard social media networks as optional, a luxury and an indulgence even, or are they an essential aspect of communication and community in the culture we inhabit?
This is a serious question because my impression is that many in the church still regard forms of digital communication as an add on, something extra that can be engaged with or not as a matter of personal preference.  I am amazed at how many people regard me as an oddity as a blogging, tweeting member of the clergy. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to preface comments in a meeting with an explanation of the main forums for social networking because people have that blank expression of incomprehension on their faces.

I understand why some are still suspicious of social media networks and forms of digital communication. I appreciate the reasons why some have decided to disengage for a period of time. Blogging can become an obsession; more about the blogger and their status, influence and statistics, than about what is being communicated or discussed. Twitter can come across as another form of displacement activity. There is a danger that Facebook looks like any other forum for frittering time away, gossiping and, sadly, even cruel bullying. I recognise that some people can become so caught up in their online relationships that they are in danger of ignoring those they are in physical community with, including family and friends.

Yet, these criticisms are not about the medium, they are about the uses to which these networks are put by the user. Why have people not considered giving up speaking, listening, reading and writing for forty days? Are the only valid forms of enrichment and refreshment during Lent verbal face to face contact and pre internet forms of communication and cultural expression? The questions sound flippant but they are sincere.


drbexl said...

Beautifully summarised Phil. I was wondering who would be giving up using their normal telephones, etc...

Anonymous said...

My experience is that I meet blank faces. I often hear these missiological statements:

"Well we're not on facebook so it doesn't mean anything to us and it's a waste of time".

"Some of us aren't on email".

"They don't have computers".

"It's not the done thing".

What they miss is the non-church-goer who sent me this FB message this morning:

"Meant to say - I really enjoyed the Rock Mass. Haven't been to church in a while and had forgotten the peace it gives".

I think many people see it as an optional extra because they don't understand it. We can quite happily die out without it.

Crystal Velvet said...

I see twitter and blogging as a form of ministry. I have no intention of giving up.

Bryony said...

You've managed to articulate just what I've been thinking! I mentioned in a blog post a while ago that I spend a lot of my time explaining to people that the internet is not evil! That's like saying a phone is evil - it's the uses you make of it, as you rightly point out, that are the important thing.

My personal evangelism has improved no end since my engagement in social media. I've just started working in a new company and most of the staff use Twitter (it's a tech company!) and started following me. Last week I got this tweet from someone I don't know very well in my office saying (of my Lent blog): "whilst I may not share your religion I do enjoy the welcoming tone and thoughtful writing of your blog. :)"

So I'm actually really glad I didn't give up social media for Lent!

Gareth Hill said...

I wonder what would happen to the church leader who said they were going to stop preaching and leading worship during Lent in order to listen to God rather than speak out?

Would the church applaud such a move, consider it selfish publicity seeking or look at it as a way of someone getting an extra holiday?

Bryony said...

I know a vicar who has announced to his congregation that they're all giving up church for Lent! He's trying to help them understand that their relationship and interaction with God doesn't have to be mediated by the church. Brave guy!

MullanaNasruddin said...

Preach it bro, Preach it

usefulinparts said...

the reaction i get seems to be that others often see it as a bit frivolous

if you're trying to educate others on how important this communication channel is then the video linked to in my 15/3/11 post is a pretty good start

stf said...

excellent post

I guess it does depend WHY we use fb or twitter ...

and indeed why (and what) we read, write or speak about

Philip Ritchie said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I think they reflect my own sense that we have a long way to go on this one.