Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook and Faith

The proliferation of communication technologies in our day cannot be disputed, both in terms of the breadth of take-up and in terms of its penetration into almost every aspect of our social lives. Those born in the last two decades are on native turf. They have not known an unwired world, and have accepted that developing a relationship does not require physical proximity in the way previous generations formed their bonds. The presence of the telephone in every home in Australia took until the late 1960s or early 1970s, and streets were still littered with public telephones, whose purpose shifted from providing universal telephone access to a place where conversations could take place in a somewhat uninterrupted space. Public telephones have all but disappeared thanks to mobile telecommunications, first the mobile phone, then the advent of mobile internet devices.
To those who have adapted to these technologies, or who have seen their children or grandchildren take to them with alacrity, this can cause some consternation, particularly when reading about the perils of the internet, access to unfiltered information and images, and the capacity to create cyber-identities for purposes which might be regarded as malign. The information about oneself on line, particularly through social networking sites like Facebook, causes generations reared on privacy to wince.
How are we to adapt to this (un)wired world?
We need to recognise that this world is more than a communications medium – it is the harbinger of a new way of understanding our world, as well as interacting with it. It brings with it a new set of values, a new paradigm, and new language. Nowhere is this more clear than in the ways in which we understand our bodies. Whereas once we defined the body in mechanical terms, we now define it in technological terms. Health check-ups were once referred to as a tune-up, and transplants akin to replacing new parts in an engine. Now we recognise the systemic nature of our body. With developing knowledge of DNA, we talk of re-programming. Brain chemistry now speaks of neural pathways and connections. These are just two of the ways in which computer technology has shaped the ways in which we see ourselves, let alone our world.
Those who seek to adapt to this new world may make the mistake of thinking it is merely a matter of adopting new technology: create a web site, join Facebook, send an email (perhaps more appropriately, a tweet!) But this is only part of the challenge to be faced. We do not embrace the new ways of being and thinking simply by bringing a computer into the office, or joining the internet-connected generation. We need to learn a new language, a new etiquette, a new way of interacting. Reading an email requires a different set of eyes than reading a hand-written letter. A facebook status update must be read with different eyes again. We need a different judgment, a different skill set.
Much of the fear surrounding the impact of these technologies is not unlike the cross-cultural experience: not understanding the symbols, cues and language which is on the surface familiar, but substantially different. The value points, communication signals and relational cues are different.
The gospel speaks to each generation with different voices, conveying a time-honoured, eternal message. The job of translating the message into this environment, requires a rethinking, a reimagining, of the import of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the overall work of God in the world. God who is the word, whose word became flesh, would enter the digital world in a creative and unique way. So should we.