Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture

I heard the end of an interview with Shane Hipps on the radio last month. He's the author of the new book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. The book sounded interesting to me, so I checked it out online. Those who'd already read it recommended reading his first book first, so I did. (Have I mentioned how much I love interlibrary loan?)

I found The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel and the Church quite fascinating. Hipps' background is advertising as a strategic planner, so he's quite familiar with media and culture.

Hipps bases much of his thinking on that of Marshall McLuhan, a very smart man who lived in the 1960's. He was a forward-thinker, and saw how the media we consume as a culture would change our thinking and our culture. Hipps introduces McLuhan in the second chapter, giving us some background into his education, thinking and status as pop culture guru in the '60's.

But first, Hipps challenges his readers to "realize that our forms of media and technology are primary forces that cause changes in our philosophy, theology, culture, and ultimately the way we do church."

Yes, his book is addressed to the church. But I think anyone who is interested in media's influence on our culture would find at least the first part of the book food for thought. I especially enjoyed his discussion of a couple of ancient Greek myths as illustrations of how we tend to look at media and how we should consider media - personally and corporately.

The first myth he discusses is that of Narcissus. The classic interpretation of it has been a warning against self-love, but Hipps favorite philosopher, McLuhan, saw it differently. He said Narcissus's chief problem was that
"he failed to recognize himself in the fountain's reflection. ... If he had understood that this fountain was simply a mirror reflecting his own face, Narcissus would have been able to dispel the power of the pool and gain control over it. ... Narcissus suffered because he became numb to the technology that came to enslave him."
Contrast that to the myth of Perseus - the son of the god Zeus. He volunteers to go destroy Medusa - the monster terrifying the land. Anyone who looks at her directly was turned to stone. Perseus uses a shield as a mirror to guide him and Medusa's stare has no affect on him because it's a reflection, so he cuts off her head.

Unlike Narcissus, who was unaware of the 'technology' that ended up enslaving him (his reflection in the pool), Perseus realizes he can control that same technology (a reflection off a shield), which allowed him to survive his ordeal.
"When we become aware of the specific ways in which technology and media serve as extensions of ourselves, much of their power is dispelled. We are returned to being owners of technology rather than those who are owned by it."
I don't know about you - but sometimes I feel as if I'm owned by my technology instead of the other way around. This book is a good foundation for being able to be a Perseus instead of a Narcissus (controlling technology instead of being consumed by it).

The rest of part one is a discussion of three basic forms of media - writing, pictures and radio - and how they changed our thinking, perception and culture. Part two is the start of a discussion of where the church goes from here - how our thinking has changed as a result of the media we consume, and Hipps thoughts on ways the church can engage the culture in terms it can understand.

I highly recommend The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture - and I am looking forward to reading Flickering Pixels.

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