In our theological wondering about our “screened” society, we have already seen how screens can be treated as oracles. In this post, we are looking at screens as “portals.”
A portal is a gateway to a different realm… like a magical wardrobe that leads to Narnia. We tend to think of the Internet as a different realm. In talking about the Web we use spatial terms. We “surf” the web. We visit “sites.” The “@” sign implies a location. We click to “follow” someone as if they are going somewhere. The Internet seems like alternative world. Staring into it through a screen can give us the sense of being transported into some other place. When you surf the Net, it feels as though you have been traveling.
The Internet is a visible, invisible world… visible on our screens, yet we can’t really see it. Strange!
With this sense that a screen can portal us into a cyber-realm comes many dangers. Think about texting and driving (or even texting and walking!).
In the UK, mobile phone use is not allowed while driving (unlike in the US) because when texting with one hand while the other is on the wheel, your mind gets stuck between two worlds—the world in front of you (which could include fast-moving cars) and the world of the person you are texting (or video-conferencing).
Other dangers arise when we feel that what happens thru a screen in a cyber-world can stay in that cyber-world. Someone was telling me how a friend was bashing them through Facebook messages and emails, but when they saw each other face to face, there was nothing but sweet sugary smiles, as if the communication online did not apply outside cyberspace in the real world.
Also, when we allow screens to be portals into cyber-realms, we feel as though we can get away with stuff that we can’t in real life. In that cyber-realm, you can be a super hero or a buff space marine shooting aliens. You can be someone you are not. You can take on screen names that provide you anonymity. You can create an online avatar, a tweaked version of yourself in a stylized world.
There are also some really helpful ways that screens can serve as portals.
As an international student, I have taken my kids away from face-to-face interaction with their grandparents. But Skype or Facetime allows my parents and in-laws to see the new school uniform, to see how much they are gaining in height, to see their new haircut or the latest scratch or boo boo, to hear them try out an English accent.
And there are many folks who would love to walk through the doors of a nearby church, but are confined to their homes because of illness or disability. Screens can offer a pathway into a live communal setting where some form of “church” may be underway.
As we take a look at how the technology of the screen is shaping and being shaped by our culture, I would love to have your feedback. How else are screens portals in your life and ministry? Any other dangers or benefits we should be aware of?