The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Social Media and the Church

I recently talked with DJ Chuang on the podcast Social Media Church. He and I had a great discussion, and we left a lot of subjects open-ended. You can check it out here.

Our conversation left more to be said than we had time for. These follow-up thoughts will whet your appetite for the whole podcast.

All technology is social media. DJ and I talked a lot about both technology and social media, but I’m not sure if this came through clearly: All technology is social media. What I mean is that every technology shapes our relationships—with God, with others, with ourselves, with creation. That makes it social by definition. For example, the clock changed our relationship to time. The train, the car, and fracking changed our relationship to land. Medical technologies change our relationships to our bodies—as do tech toys like the Apple Watch and the FitBit. Of course, the Internet is profoundly shaping our relationships with each other. But has technology really changed our relationship to God?

In response to that question, we can say that the Bible—which is a technology—has affected our relationship with God. The old scrolls helped us to listen to God’s Word, and when those words were transferred into a books with pages, we began to search the Scriptures by page number—and eventually by chapter and verse. Today, we search the Scriptures online by keyword. Each iteration of the Bible shapes how we relate to God through his Word.

Another way technology changes our relationship with God, which I mentioned in the podcast, is through the devices that make our lives easier and more controllable. The easier it is for us to secure food, shelter, safety, medicine, and contact with others, the less we need to rely on God. Whether we intend to or not, each device we adopt can make us a little more independent from God. It’s not that we intentionally turn away from trusting God. We simply grow accustomed to depending on our devices instead.

Another social media we didn't touch on is the church pew. The pew, surprisingly, is very much a social media. I’ve written more about it in my ebook From Pews to Podcasts, but I wasn't focused on it as a social medium there.

Pews are a social medium because of the ways they changed our relationship to each other. Before the 1400s, churches had no pews. People moved in a fluid mob (a “mass” you could call it) from the pulpit to the altar to the stations of the cross. This crowd-driven arrangement had people constantly shifting and moving and interacting with each other.

Today, of course, we sit it pews or chairs instead. And when it comes time to greet others, what happens? We greet only those we can reach from our row, hemmed in by the people we’re sitting between.

Now take those pews away. We’d move about freely, more able to walk over and shake the hands of those across the room, or maybe even make amends with someone whom we have wronged. But with pews, the threshold to making that contact is much higher, and can actually become a barrier. Both for connection and confession become harder and less convenient. And that is a social reality. The pew in that way is social media just as much a Twitter or Facebook is.

Like I said, my conversation with DJ was just the tip of the iceberg. It was great to be able to bat around a few ideas with him, and I hope we have the chance to do it again. In the meantime, you can dive in to some of these ideas and more, by downloading my free ebook over at NoiseTrade, From Pews to Podcasts: What Technology Wants for the Church.

Conversations are better than comments, don't you think? If you'd like to continue the conversation, email me.