A very interesting series of brief essays by Jessica Huntrods, who specializes in media ecology as part of the Moody Media Lab, liberally sprinkled with interaction with McLuhan and Ellul. I don’t know that all of Jessica’s answers are right, or that all the directions she goes are good. But she does make some excellent points and lays out many thought-provoking juxtapositions of media ecology and the church. Some excerpts:
The faster our technologies develop, the clearer it becomes that humans are deeply changed by the environments created by our technologies, and by extension, these technologies also change the theologies we construct. Our technologies hold great influence over how we perceive God.
…most of what we have created has served not to bring us further into wholeness but to fragment us spiritually and relationally. Our technology encourages isolation and distance instead of presence, and it creates worlds of unreality instead of drawing us further into our true reality in Jesus. We have mediated ourselves so that we reflect not the incarnation of Christ but the opposite. Much of our technology is at work creating a discarnate world.
Ellul and McLuhan uncovered what is hidden to the technological idiot: technologies are not neutral. All technology has an agenda that it carries out regardless of human intentions. All technology creates winners and losers, and all technology creates unintended consequences that are larger than the original good it was intended to perform. There is always a cost.
A simple way to understand media ecology is to picture a remote island with a stable ecosystem. Then imagine a new invasive species is introduced to the island. The ecosystem doesn’t just add in another animal to the food chain and continue on as normal; the entire ecosystem drastically changes. Other species may respond with a population boom or with total extinction. No species is unaffected, and every relationship changes. Now imagine a specific human society in a specific time and place as an ecosystem in equilibrium. Every new technology introduced is an invasive species that radically changes every relationship between humans and other humans, technology, and society. The introduction of a new technology changes everything, and nobody is left unaffected.
In The Medium and the Light, McLuhan devotes an entire essay to the changes the microphone brought to the Roman Catholic liturgy. He argues that the introduction of the microphone to mass forced the church to change from Latin to the vernacular, it turned around the priests so they now face the congregation, and it necessitated speakers that made acoustic-minded architecture obsolete. It also makes it difficult for personal meditation during mass because the amplified sound comes from all directions instead of one source. It even changes the tone of the message: “…the microphone, which makes it so easy for a speaker to be heard by many, also forbids him to exhort or be vehement.”
Without smart phones (or even printed Bibles, to some extent), the preaching of the gospel is listened to and received corporately. With Bible apps on smart phones, the unified body of Christ acts more as a loosely associated collection of individuals who become sermon critics instead of receivers of the word. . . . each technology takes away possibilities for some things as it creates possibilities for other things. The Bible app is the Trojan horse that distracts us from the true message of the smart phone in worship, which is individualism.
And a fascinating quote from McLuhan:
…the serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.
And another, which tightly connects to C. S. Lewis’s notion of the “clean sea breeze of the centuries”:
Today when we want to get our bearings in our own culture, and have need to stand aside from the bias and pressure exerted by any technical form of human expression, we have only to visit a society where that particular form has not been felt, or a historical period in which it was unknown.