Recently, I gave a shout-out for Shane Hipps' excellent book, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture (Zondervan, 2005. See post below). I've since read his most recent book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith (Zondervan, 2009). The latter is a popularized version of the former, taking the seminal ideas of his first book for church leaders and making them more palatable for everyday Christians. For those interested in this subject (and particularly for church leaders), the first book remains a must-read. But for those somewhat interested, really, for any thoughtful disciples, I'd suggest Flickering Pixels. It's more anecdotal and chatty than the earlier book and adds a small bit of new material. It's quickly digested--more of a bedtime read than a careful study book. It's a quick way to get the major arguments and insights of the first volume.
I share with you just a few quotations from Flickering Pixels, to give you a taste of its style and content:
"If oral culture is tribal and literate culture is individual, the electronic age is essentially a tribe of individuals" (107).
"If oral culture is intensely connected or empathic and print culture is distant or detached, then our electronic experience creates a kind of empathy at a distance" (108).
"I find it troubling that so many communities of faith are in hot pursuit of these [web] technologies. The Internet is seen as the Holy Grail of 'building community.' However, churches will find the unintended consequences of this medium coming back to bite them. The Internet is a lot of things, but it is emphatically not a neutral aid. Digital social networking inoculates people against the desire to be physically present with others in real social networks--networks like a church or a meal at someone's home. Being together becomes nice but nonessential" (115).
"Protestant Christianity is a by-product of a single medium--the printed Bible. Without printing no one could have challenged the authority of the pope. How disconcerting to have a faith yoked so closely to a medium that is now in the dusk of its life, at least its life as we currently know it. Our culture has a shrinking preference--and even aptitude--for reading books, especially complex ones. If the Bible is anything, it is complex, so it should not surprise us to see a growing biblical illiteracy in the electronic age" (146).
It's fair to ask if Hipps is, on the balance, overly critical of Internet technologies and what he perceives as their negative impact. While he does offer some very helpful pointers in the classic spiritual disciplines as useful countermeasures to the soul-stultifying aspects of the Web (and informs us of some of the rich practices of his Mennonite tradition), one wonders if he could explore more fully some of the positive, worthwhile aspects of digital technology (for example, couldn't texting be a great way to encourage people you're thinking of and praying for them? Couldn't social media networking pave the way for more frequent and focused face-to-face human contacts?). Whatever the case, this is an important read and one I highly recommend!