What Would Jesus Blog?

Is there such a thing as Digital Culture?

by on Apr.02, 2012, under Uncategorized

A friend recently posed a common question on Facebook – ‘How do we live with integrity in a digital culture?’. ‘Ah ha!’, I thought, ‘I can contribute to this discussion!’. What I wrote surprised me, but rather than hijacking her Facebook wall with my ramblings, I’m going to blog instead. Incidentally, if you don’t follow her on Twitter, do – @revjoannecox.

My answer, slightly abridged, was “I’d have to ask for more clarity on what you mean by ‘a digital culture’. We live in cultures that use digitally mediated communications at various levels, and those that do not see digital communication as ‘special’ are those that I would consider to be ‘digital cultures’, but the same rules regarding integrity apply as to those cultures where digital comms aren’t prevalent. I often find it unhelpful to define a culture by its digital-ness, as that’s not usually its defining characteristic. IMHO.”

Let me give you some background. A lot of the current thinking on how the church should address such issues comes from the early writing on the subject (Carega – eMinistry, etc), when the way in which the Internet was seen was as another world, one entered through the portal of a computer, and interacted with and then left along. Although there’s been a lot of writing since, it’s largely been from a slightly adversarial position, as if these new ways of communicating were something a bit scary, something to be treated with suspicion, and with a greater impact in and of themselves than we’d give them credit for. To an extent, that’s true.

Empiricist technophiles will typically describe a communications medium as neutral – flashes of light going down a piece of glass (which is basically what fiber optic is!) aren’t intelligent enough to be good or evil, they’re just light. Those of a more philosophical bent will look at the technology as a cultural artefact – what does it mean for a technology to exist, how does its existence change the shape of the world? For me, it’s a question of people. How do people behave in a reality where this technology exists? What do they make from the world around them?

There’s nothing new about the changes that we’re seeing. They’re nothing scarier than what’s come before. So we live in a world where I can have a video chat with someone the other side of the world, commit fraud in the UK from Nigeria, and read the guy upstairs’ email because he doesn’t understand wireless security. What do we make of that? How does that change things? For one of the cultures that I’m part of, the Nottingham alternative scene, that means that our events can be organised and promoted with minimal financial cost, that the music we listen to in clubs can equally come from YouTube videos as the DJs CD collection, and we relate to each other as much over Facebook chat and SMS as we do going round to each others houses to drink. Is this a ‘digital culture’? Definitely. What does it mean to live with integrity (implicitly, I’m taking this to be in a Christian context) in this culture? It means investing in relationships – sometimes mediated through SMS or MSN, sometimes face-to-face. It’s different from a culture where Facebook didn’t exist, because I can find out things about someone ‘from them’ without ever actually interacting with them; but actually, being aware of that means that I realise that I’m equipped for this. I can do relationships, the digital bit is just another way to interact.

I’m up to my 600 words at which point even I stop reading. I’m sure I’ll think about this more.

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