This post is part of a series about the effects of screens in our lives. For good or for ill, we are a “screened” people. In the palms of our hands, in our living rooms, in our local pubs, in our church services—screens are everywhere. In the first post we considered screens as “oracles,” then we asked how screens can be portals.
They can also be “stages.”
What I mean by this is that a screen is a means by which I can display myself to the world. We know that a stage is a public platform. As a general rule, not many people make it “on-stage.” In the world of theatre, appearing on a stage is often preceded by years of hard work, rigorous training, and intimidating auditions. But a screen can afford you and me a public platform almost instantly. Our “audience” are our Twitter followers, blog subscribers and Facebook friends.
Obviously, this public access via screens can be both good and bad. At its worst, a screen-stage can become a medium of self-exhibitionism. At its best, a screen-stage can allow the online world access to the unauthorized and uncredentialed voices. These are sometimes the most important voices to hear even though they are rarely allowed a spot on-stage outside of the Internet.
A stage can offer a considerable degree of temptation. For one, stages are the domain of actors. In our screened culture, it is very easy for us to put on an act from behind our screens, tweaking the presentation of our persona in our bios and profile descriptions.
Another temptation is to live online for applause.
Actually being on-stage can have mixed results, of course—the audience might throw rotten fruit. But they just might offer the glorious cacophony of clapping. That sort of reception can come in the form of increased blog stats, encouraging comments, or through large numbers of “likes” or “Retweets.” Having such access to a stage can subtly encourage us to be more performance-minded in our lives.
As a case in point, I remember attending a conference of international scope. Experts from all over the world were gathered. In a room full of about 1,000 scholars, one of the most preeminent of all gave a resounding lecture and the opportunity was given for questions. The young conference attendee I had just met over supper before the lecture told me he was going to ask something. He approached the microphone—in front of 1,000 scholars, remember—and asked with great aplomb if the keynote speaker owned an XBOX.
The shocked and annoyed silence in the massive hall did not dissuade him. Even though the renowned speaker had no idea what he was talking about, he stayed at the mic awaiting an answer. My new young friend joyfully returned to his seat next to me (I admit that I was quite embarrassed). Unaware that the enormous crowd were astonished with disapproval, he immediately took out his smartphone.
He was letting his online audience know about his heroic escapade.
This little story just illustrates how all of us can be tempted to act in a certain way just to pull off a Tweetable performance. Our screens and social media invite us to share something awesome with our Tweeps and FB friends. If we are not careful, we might end up living performance-oriented lives.
Then again, so many Christians can now get solid preaching from all over the world by way of their screens. A parishioner from some country with little access to the Gospel can sit in church and provide a live video of their church service to non-Christian relatives back home. In this regard, the screen-stage can be a tool of incalculable worth!
So here is the point: sreens can be stages. And that can be really helpful, and really dangerous.
Any examples or thoughts anyone would like to share?