In preparing for my course on Internet ministry next semester, I am seeing the need to cover the topic of how the medium affects the message. The question is not “DOES the Internet change the message of our ministry”, it is “HOW does the message change when it is communicated via the Internet?” This is, of course, classic Marshall McLuhan and “the medium is the message“.
I was thinking about this yet again today while I was working out and listening to my iPod. I was listening to some old Daniel Amos, and the song “Here I Am” came on. The song, written originally in 1983, asks the question: does the use of recorded media (“preserved performance”) change the relationship between artist and his or her audience? Some sample lyrics:
Here I am, here I am, driving to the studio with all of our equipment
Here I am, here I am, singing in the microphone while the tape is rolling
Here I am, here I am, at the photo session smiling at the camera
There you are, there you are, getting out your money purchasing the record
Here we are, here we are, by way of stereo making minimal contact
Is this a substitute, is this me
Well I can’t see you and I’m out of your reach
Here I am (crying)
This brings up the idea of “live” vs. “preserved” performance and the effects this has on both the artist and the presenter (more on this in the book put out by John Mark Reynolds and Roger Overton). And this got me thinking yet again about how the use of the Internet changes our message, whether or not we want it to. For example, when we post a blog entry, we are told we must keep it short or no one will bother to read it. To work under this condition, many authors will try to create a “quick hit” post about something that really does require more depth. (After all, to a blogger, every thought or idea looks like a blog post, as every problem looks like a nail…). And what about using video to “video-cast” (or “vcast” or “vlog” or ?) a church service? Won’t this lead many to view the service as they do television? Just sit back and do the couch potato. This leads to a very different experience than attending a worship service.
So am I saying that ministries should abandon the Internet because the way that they will be used may lead to a changing of the message? No. But I do think it is very important for those of us who want to minister online to have an understanding of how the Internet changes our ministry’s message and to use this knowledge to help us with our decision-making about how to use it. This is the conclusion that Shane Hipps comes to in his book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. And this is also what the students in my class (and any good course that is teaching Internet ministry) will be learning.