Online: A Theology (@drbexl @maggidawn) #refract #cnmac10

1) To introduce ourselves:

  • Bex Lewis:  Cultural historian, digital specialist, works for Universities of Durham & Winchester.
  • Maggi Dawn: Author and theologian, currently Chaplain and Fellow at the University of Cambridge

In this talk today, we will be looking at a mix of theology and practical examples, as we seek to identify some of the tools that are available, whether the internet offers a fundamentally different experience, address questions of online identity and authority, and finish where all new media projects should start, with play.

Photos provided by Premier Christian Media

2) So, what kind of tools are available?

  • Lots, but OPTIONS, but don’t try to use them all. Are obvious platforms – see on map Facebook the biggest.
  • Toolbox – wouldn’t try & use hammer & spanner at same time, maybe a hammer & nail – look for right mix. Always say to students – start where you feel most comfortable & think about what you’re trying to achieve.
  • Nick Baines. Challenged to write a blog for 2 weeks, continues to blog regularly
    • See from Problogger how similar to a sermon a blog is (central to everything else!)
  • The Church Mouse. Winner. Best Newcomer 2009. Established following, specifically Christian blog posts.
  • My blog. Personal. Scrapbook style. Irregular. See variety interests. Christian high. Comment on others blogs.
  • Bible in 1 Year. Soul Survivor. Youth. Follow together. Sense of community, comments. [Think re: how to encourage continued engagement]
  • Linked In. Strongest rep. business world. Online CV. Make connections. Leave feedback. Groups (group for Christians working online, whatever capacity).
  • Twitter. 2006. Microblogging. Tweets  140 characters (SMS basis), read by ‘followers’
    • Already aware conference hashtag #cnmac10
    • Biblical discussion online with #chatbible, see also #140exegesis
    • @Biblesummary [3.5 years, print media got interest, now keeping going]
    • Natwivity, test year last year. Bigger this year.
  • Second Life. Internet based virtual world, users = avatars. Activities including church.
  • Facebook, the big beast, with over 500 million users. Online social club.
    • Group pages. 2030s Winchester. Invite to events. Socialise. Prayers
    • Fan Pages. Bible Journey. Lead discussion. Comments.
  • Skype. VOIP. House phone x. Mobile, mostly data. Church office?
  • iPhone apps. Pictured – KoreUK. Jesus’ daily words.
  • BibleGateway. Multiple translations. Search options.
  • Interviewing number these people for #BigBible. Inspire. Practical tips. Theological concerns.
  • Particularly interested in individuals online, turn to new sites such as Island Parish for official church marketing.  Church Marketing Sucks another thought-provoking one.

Know your audience, and don’t expect one tool to solve it all…

So, talked about all these tools. Look at some thoughts about it…

  • What does this relate to (Gutenberg… which was also believed to have revolutionised the world)?
  • What about this one? (Telephone, see we have similar fears, echoed over time).

So, think about what you’re trying to do and whether you have the right tools in the box, or which you need to learn. Now, we said Gutenberg’s invention was a game-changer, what about the internet….

3) ….. Maggi….

My scribbled notes from listening to Maggi

  • We have the priviledge of reading. Large parts of society have/still are based on oral cultures. Before the printing press knowledge was priviledged.
  • The written was seen as dangerous. People read alone, reading indicated “don’t speak to me… I’m readin”. There was a mode and place of discourse.
  • Individualism. Orality Theory. Text speaks when nobody to speak.
  • Printing offers a faster and deeper, changed the way people read and interacted with text and each other. Online changes that interaction again.
  • The power of the text – previously we had to pursue text, now we use text all the time to send messages.
  • Online is instant, not static text. We can comment and counter-comment, debate. Wikipedia uses experts, it’s not the flattened authority that was anticipated when first created.
  • Social reading and interaction. A change in the voice. Dialogic not in isolation. Ongoing updating. More community focused.

4) Is the virtual real?

  • Clarify, talk in terms of offline/online. So far as I’m concerned, both parts of the same life!(Push vs Pull marketing)
    • In the “new world” everything is faster, and more ephemeral yet more permanent, we can be more in contact, or we can live in
  • Marc Prensky (10 years ago: digital natives, etc.). More recently, talk of ‘digital residents’ and ‘digital visitors’.
  • Part of the “mix” that we use. Where title of “Blended” Learning comes from – we all learn, from a multitude of sources, formally & informally (and yes cakes are important within universities).
  • With the growth of mobile – see how much of our offline life is reflected online, and in real time as depicted in this trailer for “The Social Network” (film released this week, 2.5 mins)
    • Put thought into this, e.g. Gave birth, didn’t tell best friend, thought would see FB status.
  • For me, the biggest players online are those who are authentic, and interested in being part of a giving-community. How you are offline tends to be reflected online (so if you’re shouty offline, then you will be online…. So let’s please fill the online space with positive 1s & 0s!)
    • Already mentioned my blog, reflects ‘whole life’. Quote from The Pope in 2002 has something interesting to say to us [read] – so is the online a missional space?
    • Social media is about storytelling, and don’t we have some of the best stories to tell…
  • Want to look at a couple of activities (one accepted, one not) that are bridging the online/offline worlds.
    • A lot of money is changing hands online, not only in offline versions of our online stores, but in Second World virtual currency changes hand, and has an exchange rate with “real” money.
    • We’re in tough times, and churches haven’t always found it the easiest to get in money. The digital world has truly allowed us to spread the load – through micro-payment services such as Ploink, and Justgiving (have def sponsored more people since that came online), and tying it into specifics £2 less for you – how those small steps tie together (a different message from one that has been shouted for decades – give & give big)… ties us back in with the Widow’s Mite
    • Of course not all about money – SuperBadger
    • Then there’s the issue of online/offline churches (are online only too), of which Lifechurch is one of the best known… and they undertake a form of communion online which has been the subject of big debate. Non-theologian, so refer you to a couple of pieces by Simon Jenkins & Mark Brown for starters…
    • Does this mean that we no longer have to “do” something?
  • Online/offline friendships (some in both). Both genuine, but in our world: offline = “real”, online are “friends” (in quotes).
    • Something visceral about meeting ‘in the flesh’, as have found today.
    • Depends on the tool – Facebook tends to be people I can CONTEXTUALISE; Twitter anyone with a shared interest.
    • Have got to “know” lots of people online. Get to know lots – interests, habits, music likes – as people share a lot online (some need to learn to understand the medium better) – but if don’t know in other contexts may not know if they are using their real name.
    • Real concern for many, who are you really talking to, but I think it’s increasingly difficult to ‘hide’ online. Multiple networks, maintain false persona 24/7?
    • Has widened my network. Getting to know people before, between, after events. Easter – conf paper with James Clay.
    • Just another conversation, with geographic & time boundaries removed.
  • We can all have something to say…. But how much do we trust what other’s say. Poulter, Recommendation Economy.
  • Bring in a little theory – in my PhD used Foucauldian notions of Power/Knowledge, in which he reversed commonly said “Knowledge is Power”, to “Power is Knowledge”, in that those institutions which are already powerful are the ones that define what IS knowledge…  Those that have power offline, are also the most powerful online… at which point I think I’ll hand over to Maggi to talk about questions of authority online.

5) … Maggi ….

My scribbled notes from listening to Maggi

  • Visual & experiential. Maggi’s first blog was technically correct. With an academic background she’s been trained to fight back, and had lost all vulnerability. The initial responses were only from the 3 who encouraged her to set up a blog, who said it was too heavy for a blog. Went on to write every day and play until the way to write for a blog made sense. The lyric voice then emerges.
  • Writing online is different in form & function, not just physically but in relation to different types of interaction. Online includes bits of scholarship, but it’s much more authentic, immediate, raw and vulnerable! We relinquish authority and walk side by side with our readers. Augustine – the first blogger – wrote in the first person, understanding theology in conversation with God.
  • Online, you start to write in a way that we know that it’s you in the narrative voice. Within an essay, etc. we tend to pre-plan what we’re going to say, it’s a retropective telling of what you already know. You learn slowly, like climbing a mountain (start at the bottom).
  • The lyric voice is more commonly associated with poems. It captures a sense of being in the moment, feeling, expressions and emotions. We tend to write in the present tense, apparently as it happens. Is this a more feminine way of writing. Would say not specifically! It’s about information and degrees of knowledge. Rosetti – makes you crym, whereas a lecture is less likely to. It’s about telling a story.
  • God: his powerful “Word”, not just written/spoken/The Bible, but part of the Trinity. Voice not just theory. Get drawn into a dialogue. Andrew Marr: “Bloggers are all pimpled”. A new form of play.

6) The importance of play

  • LICC ‘Toolbox’ course in 2007, the ‘whole-life Christian’, be the best you can be where you are now. Been reading ‘screw work let’s play’.
    • A topic you obsess & think about all day, if you eat, sleep, think a particular topic, why not blog about it, tweet about it, etc. as your true passion will come through.  Play with a purpose, but allow time to PLAY!
  • ‘Make Them Think’ (apologise for pixilation!).
    • PC vs Mac was a series of Mac ads that became a bit of an internet ‘meme’ & spawned lots of parodies… see the original (30 secs)
    • See the Christian version (60 seconds). Whatever think of the content, is a clever use & likely to get attention…
  • ‘Make Them Laugh’ (gets people talking… and quite often responding). 2 that I’ve had most response from
    • ‘Jesus Dies’ (and sums up much of the current state of knowledge re the Bible
    • ‘WTF’ (I would probably have chosen FTW)
  • Go ‘Hyper-Local’ – use the hyper-connections you have to engage fully with your local communities.
    • Idea for #bigbible is to encourage people to ‘geocache’ (electronic treasure hunt using your SatNav/Smartphone), creating new ones in ‘spiritual spaces’ (including church buildings), and placing items to make people think/follow something up online
    • ‘Augmented Reality’, which is something still getting my head round, but adds virtual layers of information to physical information – e.g. screenshot here, see a local area & links it into web links, etc.
  • There’s all these tools online – social media, phone apps, etc. Pick one and try it – no one knows everything about social media (and there’s no such thing as a stupid question!)

Do please join us for #bigbible, and now, any questions…

7) Questions

  • Do we have presuppositions about what we want to achieve online? Is our thinking and behaviour shaped by what we already think/do. By what? How does that affect our interactions?
  • Literacy awareness, and who is reading blogs?
  • Vulnerability not the same. Not caring what others think. Connects to actual lives. It’s not closing an argument.
  • Is there a difference between using social  media and taking that into offline lives? Help teenagers deal with mixed messages about safety, etc. Maybe the next conference should be on privacy!
  • Think who sees your material – tell stories without the details. Ensure you’d be happy for God, your parents, your enemy to read everyting you write! A lot of fears re: the internet could be quashed with full digital literacy!

About drbexl

Life Explorer, academia/learning, Christian, cultural history, WW2 posters: Keep Calm & Carry On, digital world, coach. Twitter: @drbexl @digitalfprint, @ww2poster @bigbible