I am a big fan of technology. As Kip sang in his wedding song on Napoleon Dynamite, “Yes I love technology but not as much as you, you see…” I love blogging, podcasting, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook and so on. And as one who is just a few months into planting a church I am finding how the internet can do a whole lot to connect folks and get the message out for very little money. For instance, our church has been going through a faith experiment (inspired by the folks at Not the Religious Type) through this season of Lent which is called 40 Days of Faith. Because of technology, each day I am able to post a new reflective reading from scripture that a lot of people in the church follow along with on our website. On top of that I am able to podcast the messages from our weekly services within hours of the service so folks who can’t make it can still stay connected with the content. This has been very helpful for the folks of our small congregation not to mention a handful of others from around the country who are following along with us. So yes I love technology.
Many years ago media and communications guru Marshall McLuhan, made the insightful statement that “the message is the medium” (Shane Hipps explored this idea quite a bit in Flickering Pixels which I reviewed a couple of weeks back). In other words the very medium that we use to communicate actually is a message in and of itself.
For instance think of watching regular TV verses “On Demand” or programs you have recorded on DVR. When we moved into our latest house in Abita Springs a couple of months ago we got cable hooked up and it came with an “On Demand” feature. This feature means that you can watch a movie whenever you want without having to go the video store (I know we are probably showing up late for this feature but we think it is pretty cool). But what is even cooler is that many of the channels like ABC, NBC, National Geographic and so on offer free programs “On Demand”. What I find interesting is that there are shows I would watch if they just happened to be on while I was surfing through the channels yet when I have the option to watch them at my convenience I will pass on them. What this shows me is that watching TV is mainly a passive thing. We don’t want to have to make decisions or even commitments while watching TV which is in large part due to the format which encourages passivity. This is why you can sometimes sit and surf through channels for hours on end without committing to any one program. “On Demand” automatically engages your will a little bit more than regular TV and thus the medium is changed a bit in the process. On Demand is a little (just a little) less passive than regular TV. The internet and video games take participation several steps further. But whatever the media used whether radio (where the content is chosen for you), or podcasts (where you choose what to listen to, or books (where your mind imagines the narrative) or movies (where your imagination doesn’t have to work), or social networks (where you interact albeit through text and pictures), or blogs etc. the medium is part of the message. Technology is not nearly as neutral as we think it is because it communicates just as much as the message itself.
I read an article yesterday entitled Hologram Preachers Slated to Appear in Churches. The title alone hooked me as I remembered the cool holograms from Sci-Fi movies such as Star Wars (“help me Obi Wan, you’re my only help!”) I read the article which talked about how the next new thing in multi-site churches will be hologram preachers. While I have thought of a lot of cool uses for holograms (video gaming, telecommunications, practical jokes on my kids) I never thought of preaching via hologram. The article had a reel cringe factor for me and I am not exactly sure why. I am certainly not down on technology but something about holographic preachers strikes me as not quite right (maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old man who is stuck in my ways).
I have been to a conference on Multi-site Churches and read a book and plenty of articles on the phenomenon (or revolution of multi-sites depending on who you read) and have even had many a spirited debate with friends on the strengths and weaknesses of multi-site campuses, so I am definitely familiar with the concept. The typical multi-site approach is to show a video at the satellite campus from the main church service which allows a church to get into many communities and use smaller facilities instead of just trying to grow in one location. In many video venues the video that is shown is shot from a front angle and is often projected on a screen that will make the speaker appear almost as a natural person (life size) in the room. The philosophy behind this is to give the experience, or the vibe, of the main church service to those in attendance. Some have even kicked it up a bit by using HD video feeds which are no doubt quite impressive (I have witnessed one in person and it was very cool). So on this current trajectory wouldn't holograms be inevitable? I just wonder though, if the medium truly is the message (or at least significantly effects the message), then what is the message that is shaping folks in attendance when there is a holographic preacher? Is there any difference in hearing/watching a pastor/preacher in a room live, on a video screen or via hologram? As far as the multi-site church debate goes I don't think anyone is even questioning the message of the medium. The assumption at least is that technology is neutral and what we do with it determines its worth but perhaps we should ask how video screens, internet, and even holograms are a message in themselves and how that works with or fights against our call as kingdom people. I would love to hear some ideas on this one.