Hi, I’m David Phillips. I’m married with two very cute kidsI’m 2/3rds of the way through a Masters of Divinity with the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney (part time),I’ve been blogging for around 12 years, and I’m the digital marketing manager at UTS, where I spend a lot of time thinking about how people use social media to communicate.This afternoon, I’d like to talk a little about social networks, and how they impact the way that we have conversations.
A 19-year-old young woman becomes obsessed with chatting electronically with a young man 70+ miles away. Not unlike a zillion young women and men in the 21st century.Yet this “online” romance took place in the 1800s!Nettie is a telegraph operator who dreams of being an author. One day in the course of normal business she receives a message from “C” a telegraph operator in another city. They strike up a “conversation” in Morse Code, and soon become fast electronic friends.
People have been using electronic technology to help them communicate for over a hundred years. To understand how conversation changes with technology, it’s worth thinking about two aspects: bandwidth, and synchronisation.These are technical terms that comes into play: bandwidth describes how much data is travelling across a medium at a given time, and synchronisation is about making sure that the data lines up when it’s sent from one place to another.
When I say bandwidth, I’m talking about how much information is being transferred with each step of the conversation. How many of your five senses are engaged? Touch, sound, sight, smell, taste.Share a meal with someone in a crowded restaurant? High bandwidth.Send someone a text message? Low bandwidth.
When I say synchronisation, I’m talking about the gap between each step of the conversation.Speak on the phone? High synchronisation.Write a letter in the 1800s? (Or send a text message with certain mobile phone carriers)? Low synchronisation.Neither bandwidth nor synchronisation are good or bad in themselves, but they influence the kind of conversation that’s taking place.The less bandwidth you have to work with, the more likely you are to lose nuance. Have you ever experienced conflict in a relationship because of a misunderstanding from a text message?Then you’ve felt the pinch of reduced bandwidth in a conversation.The elephant in the room, of course, is facebook.
Facebook has made massive changes to the way that we communicate. It has much lower bandwidth, pushing most people towards short text updates and links, but has the illusion of high bandwidth with its tendency to share photos and videos.It’s easy to see a picture of someone that we know, and some text that we know is from them, and assume that we’re hearing more from them than we really are. But the little picture isn’t making eye contact with us. It’s not using the mannerisms (though you may add them in, and imagine that the person is saying the thing they typed).It has quite variable synchronisation, and pushes its users to spend more and more time online, lest we “miss something”.Does facebook make us more and more like pavlov’s dogs? Waiting for the ring of the “new message” bell, and starting to salivate at the thought of more, fresh, information.It has the tendency to push conversation into the public forum – the wall – encouraging us to push those facts usually reserved for “small talk” away from the starting point of real face-to-face conversations.
Have you ever deliberately skipped the opportunity to talk to someone because you felt that you knew what they were up to from facebook, and didn’t need to talk to them?The form of communication that you choose for a message will shape the message. As you skew your contact with friends towards the low-bandwidth environment of facebook, you will have a tendency to communicate in the way that works best for facebook. This is more likely to be superficial sharing than deep sharing, because so much is in public (or is potentially in public). Suddenly, close friends become less and less honest with each other, all from a superficial pressure to present their lives in the best possible way.You might hope that it would be viable to simply sign out of facebook: to delete your account and stay away. This might work for some situations, but you may well miss out on some valuable connections this way.I hate to say it, but facebook is too big to be ignored. I would go so far as to say that the meaning of the word “friend” has changed. It’s a broad term for anyone that you have had contact with: it carries with it all kinds of new social pressures and faux pas, and can now be used as a verb in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago.
Let’s spend a few minutes speaking in twos and threes about what kind of conversations you would want to have with your friends. Are these the kinds of conversations you can have on facebook?(pause)Ok. Let’s get back together again now. There will be a chance for questions at the end, but let me speak quickly about what facebook means for faith. Here are four areas that I’ll talk briefly about.
relationshipsaccountabilityAs we get to a point where we’re doing much of our sharing in this electronic space, accountability becomes more difficult. Want to hide some kind of behaviour from others? It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to look into someone’s eyes and tell them that you’re not struggling.The temptation with presenting your life online is to talk only about the things that you’re proud of. This means that you miss out on accountability, but also give the impression to others that there’s nothing in life that you are struggling with.The fix: talk about the good and the bad.None of us are going to be perfect. Even if we’re smiling and looking our best in every photo, we know that we’re not smiling or looking our best all the time.caring for others in the way you speakWhat does it mean to be encouraging with everything that we say on facebook?We need to know who we’re talking to. Are you sharing all the joys of a new relationship with someone who is single and not happy about it? Are you telling your friends that you’re not actually sick, and also telling your lecturer or your boss?Do you even know who your facebook friends are?Are you constantly complaining about things that – at best – are “first world problems”? Read back on your facebook posts from the last couple of months. Would you want to be friends with that person?
conversationsEvangelismOne of the things you’ll hear from time to time is the evangelism potential of facebook. People mean different things by this.Firstly, do you even know anyone who isn’t a Christian? If you do, do you think that quoting platitudes, or inscrutable Christian jargon, will persuade anyone?What kind of depth of relationship do you have with your friends? How many could you call up and have a coffee with? How many would help you move house?building relationshipsWould you be able to have a greater number of high-quality conversations if there were fewer people on your list of friends?We have only so many waking hours in the week. As you spend more hours on social networks, that means fewer hours face-to-face with friends.I want to encourage you to be as strategic as you can be with how you use your time, and especially with how you use your time online,
Let’s have some questions
theology Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”. The method that you use to consume information shapes the way that you understand that information.How do we come to know about God? By reading the bible. How do we read our bible? Perhaps ten years ago, we took a book off the shelf – maybe it had a fancy bible cover on it. You would open up the bible cover, flip the paper pages over, maybe skim through the underlined passages and notes you’d made on the pages. You would work slowly (or quickly) through the text, then close the book, close the cover, and put it back on the shelf or table where you’d found it.What do you do now? Maybe you’re still using a book, but more likely you’re using some kind of electronic device. You no longer turn pages, but instead you punch in the reference and wait for it to appear. Maybe you’re reading the bible on a website. Maybe you’re reading it on a device that’s also a phone: an interruption could arrive at any second.I don’t want to tell you that electronic bibles are wrong. I do want to tell you that the medium that you use to consume biblical content is shaping the way that you interact with the bible. A device that’s designed for short bursts of text reading is not going to encourage reflection or meditation. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but why make your bible reading harder when you don’t need to?As you move your relationships with people, who are made in God’s image, onto social networks, this will change your perception of the people, and ultimately will impact the way you understand God.
Everyone means everyone<br />The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings.<br />If you delete “everyone” content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook.<br />