Another “Discarded intellectual” group that is sorely needed by the church, Â is the “theologian of network technology”. Â It is kept from playing a significant Â role largely because the church organizations have followed the market tendencies in technology to the exclusion of sound theological discernment about how to let the “Social” actually BE social. Â It has much to do with theological study and defining who we are in a way that makes the network such a potentiallyÂ powerful tool for enabling the church to significantly extend itself into some powerfully creative spiritual habitat.
The “new toy” syndrome has stricken the church. Â The Â new social apps and services have been populated by church folks and organizations, Â but the Â organizations seem to be unable see any possibilities beyond a means to drive people to their website. Â That’s where the “content” is, after all. Â Twitter can’t hold much in a post, Â so it’s for linking and “PR” to get people to where they can READ our content. Â It’s right back into using new media to contain old media content. Â Yes, Â websites are old media now, to the extent that they carry forward a magazine, print-based communication (“Print-based” in that it Â is Â “the content written by us and published to you”. Â It’s still the old top -down, one way flow.)
Twitter (and Facebook, Â and Â other “expressive” posts/updates like Google Plus) Â are facing an audience that “follows” or friends us because people want to hear about events or expeiriences we tend to share about, Â or inform their followers/friends (tweeps or peeps) about things that we find interesting or important. Â Journalists follow a lot of other journalists and news Â people, technologists follow people who write and comment on technology, sports, economics, Â etc.
The most interesting people or Â organizations I follow are the ones who post about what I find interesting. Â These things are most often things OTHER than their own writings, or announcements from Â their own organizations. Â The Twitter accounts I find moost useful are those which DONT use Twitter or other Social Media platforms for PR and self-promotion, Â and instead provide a somewhat steady stream of links to useful and interesting things. Â Chris Brogan suggests a rule of thumb for Twitter: Â Post 9 things about something NOT you for every thing ABOUT YOU.
As one interested in technology, politics, sports, and theology/church, Â I have a wide variety of things about which I can post, Â aside from posts about something I may be Â doing or seeing, Â some place where I am that I feel like revealing, Â or some post I just made on my blog. Â And I get several followers from groups of people interested inÂ technology, politics, sports, and theology/church.
I tend to Â follow Â theological tweeters who I have discovered via a link attached to an article they have written (to which I have been directed by another tweeter), Â or via a tweet that has been retweeted by someone I follow. Â I click into the Tweet stream of the Â oneÂ retweetedÂ to see if they tweet other things I would find interesting. Â I often end Â up following people this way. Â This tends Â to grow the list I follow exponentially, Â since the newly followed “RT” others they find interesting, Â which often interest me as well. Â It is a peer-based recommendation engine.
The PR approach detaches itself from the utility of this approach. Â I guess Â one could say it’s PEER over PR. Â It harnesses one Â of the many beneficial fruits of the network. Â It is SOCIAL, Â notÂ commercialÂ or marketing (except in the Â sense of “social marketing”: Â an exposure to the “market” of individuals in particular twitter streams. Â It’s an exchange of recommendations, Â much like what RSS subscription feeds used to be for me. Â I even subscribe to RSS feeds of Twitter streams, Â and use Â them on my blog.
Someone like me, Â who has been immersed in this online networking before there was a Web with much to find on it, Â who became intrerested in networking technology BECAUSE of the church and my desire to extend myself into a wider net of Â people (mostly in order to explore that very subject with the then few people who were also exploring), Â is an example of Â someone whose seminary training has culminated in an immersion in technology issues in the church, Â specifically in that of online community.
It was Howard Rheingold’s 1993 Virtual Community that was the first printed Â work which delved deeply into this topic. Â Almost 10 years later, Â Rheingold published Smart Â Mobs, Â which again delved into the online community as it has once again shifted due to mobile technology. Â This year, Â after another ten years, Â he Â has published Net Smart: How to Thrive Â Online, Â which delves deeper still into the world of how our brains and emotions and social experience of community is being slowly “evolved” into something that impacts Â our very experience of both that space and that community which we seek.
I see virtually NOONE in church organizations paying Â any significant attention to these things, Â and yet Â it seems to me that it SHOULD be a crucial piece to be studied by such ministries as Clinical Pastoral Education, Â since Â this impacts in a significant way the kind of people and the shifting psyches with which pastoral ministry Â is involved. Â And ultimately, Â all pastors Â and people who seek to minister to other church members (and in mission/outreach to those outside Â the church), Â this is a crucial area in which to gainÂ understanding, Â given the ubiquity of our technology , Â which seems will only increase as time goes by.
I should expect to see things like “Psychology of the Networked Mind” Â (or the “Sociology or Social Psychology” of such) in the social and mind sciences in the future. Â And if there are cautionary notes to be explored, Â we who are called to be a community that seeks wholeness for ourselves and our communities would seem to want to explore these things along with all the other social and spiritual issues we explore as a theological community.