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