I, for one, won't be buying an Amazon 'Kindle', at least for some time yet. I think the prediction of this being 'iPod for books' is way off for the simple reason that the media are totally different. Music is not physical. Sure, you could thumb through the album artwork, and that was a great bonus with a 12" gatefold. But it was always subsiduary to the actual thing: the music. And music is simply to be listened to. In stereo. No more.
With a book, the text is the object. Fine - the text can be inked digitally, but what I don't think can be replicated is the 'flick value' of a book. I never just read a book - I read a bit, flick around, look at the cover again, turn back... It's a much more physical experience than we often think. And I just don't want to give that up.
With music, the emotional centre is the listening. With a book, the whole object - the spine, the binding, the font, the leading, the stock - all of these things are tied up with the emotional content of the actual text.
I read news online. But a novel? Forget it. Won't kindle no spark for me.
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by the news today that Virgin Atlantic are soon to announce a free trans-atlantic service. On each flight, a small number of fee-free passengers will simply have to put up with being pinned into their seats having commercials fired at them for the entire trip. Like the NYT, the WSJ and London's FT, they are simply following the same business model that makes a free-to-use site like Facebook 'over $10bn': we get life without paying, as long as we put up with commercials.
It'll be pretty plain to see that I haven't been posting that much recently. Stuff happens, and, on top of that, I've been feeling a little faded/bored with it. By it, I mean blogging. And by blogging I mean, in this context, stuff connected with the 'emerging conversation'. Perhaps it's just me.
I've just written a piece for Third Way - coming out in November - about Facebook, and other social networks. In the article I quote two things from Bauman's Liquid Life. Firstly Bauman himself who writes that:
"flattened into a perpetual present and filled to the brim with survival-gratification concerns, [the world] leaves no room for worries about anything other than what can be consumed and relished on the spot"
Secondly, Bauman quotes a Stasuik, another cultural commentator, who notes that:
“it is highly probable that the quantity of digital, celluloid and analogue beings met in the course of a bodily life comes close to the volume which eternal life and resurrection of the flesh could offer."
And what I'm feeling at the moment, springing out of these thoughts, is just the volume of noise in the blogosphere. I've likened it in the past to being at a party where everyone in the room is shouting, but no one is actually listening. Conversation is thus impossible. To converse we must be quiet and listen, and digest what others are saying, and reflect and then reply.
(By the way - welcome to those readers who've made it past the 240 word mark. You've done better than most web-readers do, according to studies)
For me the 'emerging conversation' has become too much like a whole bunch of people mouthing off... Pretending to listen, by occasionally quoting others, but, for the most part, just yabbering on about their little world regardless of what others are saying. In the book I mention some of the conditions under which a system might become 'emergent', or 'self-organizing', or 'a learning system', to use different syntax. One of the key conditions is an ability to sense and respond to its environment. And this requires careful listening. I think we've lost the art.
So I'm moving over to a new blogging-style system called Conch. The creators say that Conch is "designed to emphasise the connectedness side of being part of a network, not unlike sitting round a dinner table, where certain rules about listening before speaking are important."
You thus start by creating what they call a 'table' of other members. Once your table is set, you can begin posting, just as you would with any other blogging system. The difference is in the discussion element. Conch uses an algorithm to detect how the conversation around any post is going, and table members can rate other members' comments. These ratings are then used, along with the algorithm, to invite a member of the table to post a new thought once discussion around the previous one has died down. This member can then either: post a new piece or defer to someone else in the group who they feel ought to 'have the conch' that time round - the allusion obviously being to Golding's Lord of the Flies. Such a deferral gains a member ratings; members can force a new post themselves, but doing so is ratings-costly.
Of course, for the small part of the bell-curve who made it to the end of a post this long, you'll realize Conch doesn't exist. But sometimes, amidst the noise and haste of a movement that appears to be whirling around in hyperspace like a dervish, constantly spinning and going nowhere fast, I wish it did. Thus ends, according to Technorati, the 17,754th post on 'emerging church', the 100th in 24 hours, and that's including a Sunday, when good bloggers like TSK don't even post ;-)
It's obviously rich of me talking about this, flying as I am to LA on Monday, but it's an often over-looked fact that the net runs on servers, and servers draw power. Nic mentioned the other day that a simple calculation of the server power-draw for Second Life, divided by the average number of users online at any one time, gives the incredible fact that Second Life avatars use more CO2 than an average Brazilian (or should I say, person in Brazil ;-). Another great reason for never going back there.
So when do Typepad release a 'Green Tariff', which allows you to ensure your power-draw is coming from renewables?
But it took a beer with Nic - as so often it does - for the obvious connection to jump out: all social networking sites are simply virtual ways of touching the sacred.
In the Girard piece, Roger Scruton defines the sacred as "moments that stand outside time, in which the loneliness and anxiety of the human individual is confronted and overcome, through immersion in the group"
There can be no better definition of why Web 2.0 / Social Networking has taken off: we are all desperately raising antennae, trying to channel from the web these moments of immersion, moments when someone wants to link to us, wants to comment on our thoughts, wants to tag us, accepts us in their group.
My skepticism about the extent to which these moments actually can occur on the web thus highlight a further problem, and a further opportunity. The historic ways in which people have accessed the sacred have been eroded: community, church, neighbours - even conscription - and yet the virtual substitutes of MySpace, Facebook etc., are proving inadequate. Easy as it may be to whip up a network of hundreds of friends and connections, the actual sacred moment is still elusive.
This is the problem. And the opportunity is clearly this: we need to be providing these sacred spaces, and if we do so in an unthreatening way, people will flock there. Which they already do: check out the huge surge in popularity of festivals recently. Connected to the rise in virtual living, and the demise of the traditionally sacred? I'd say definitely. We all need a little carnival to feel connected. Which is why I'll be off to Greenbelt again at the end of the month.
Having seen Ben and some others resign themselves to Facebook, I asked them why I should bother... do I really want another digital dimension to have to check/keep up? And with being a teacher, all social networking sites are slightly fraught with potential pitfalls. (Unlike an ex colleague, who I think is very unwise, I don't allow friendships with current students)
Well, having dipped my toe in anonymously for a while I decided to jump in properly, and, in fact, I love it. But perhaps not for the same 'hey isn't it great to hook up with my old grad school people again' reasons.
Firstly, I think Facebook have been very wise and seen the future more clearly than sites like MySpace. They've recently bought the Mozilla-connected start-up Parakey ("Give your computer the bird") whose whole premise is about bridging the gap between web and desktop. Watch out for Facebook really becoming an on-line desktop: contacts, photos, documents, events management. I've used it in small ways in this way and I think it's going to be huge.
Secondly, I love the fact that Facebook is 'dirty'. Well, it is for me anyway. Check my profile and you won't see a sterile list of Christian leaders. There are real people there. Who swear and post dumb things and chuck stuff around. Some I've worked with, some I've taught at High School. And I love the fact that they get to see the 'other side' of what I do right there on my profile, and others get to see the teaching side too. For me personally i've always found that they enrich one another, and provide great moments for conversation on all sides. Some of which doesn't have swearing or trrible grmr init ;-)
I am really pleased to have been able to contribute a chapter to a great new book: 'Voices from the Virtual World'. It's been put together under the umbrella of 'Wikiklesia', which is a collaborative publishing project.
"Voices of the Virtual World explores the growing influence of technology on the global Christian church. In this premier volume, we hear from more than forty voices, including technologists and theologians, entrepreneurs and pastors… from a progressive Episcopalian techno-monk to a leading Mennonite professor… 'Voices' is a far reaching exploration of spiritual journey contextualized within a culture of increasingly immersive technology."
"Conceived and established in May 2007, the Wikiklesia Project is an experiment in on-line collaborative publishing. The format is virtual, self-organizing, participatory - from purpose to publication in just a few weeks. All proceeds from the Wikiklesia Project will be contributed to the Not For Sale campaign."
My chapter is entitled 'Text/Audio/Video: Probing the Dark Glass'. Our journey from birth to adulthood takes from video (we see first) to audio (we learn to speak) throught to text (we learn to read). Paradoxically, our technological path has started with text (printing) moved on to audio (sound recording / pod-casting) and finally on to video (video calls, HD video streaming). How do these two different paths impact our rendering of faith? Go buy a copy from 23rd July, and find out. Don't worry, there's a host of great people to read other than me ;-)
I was curious. I had to have a look. So 'KFrank Repine' entered the Second Life universe and judderingly wandered around trying to make some sense of it all. I couldn't. So I walked into the sea and logged off. Have I drowned now?
One of the things I tried to find out in my brief foray away from real life was whether there was a church in this new world. I didn't get to one, but certainly I've tracked one down on line. It looks absolutely terrifying. Notice the rigid rows of seats and utter darkness inside. Some kind of fantasy going on here.
So... does anyone know if there is 'emergent' activity going on in Second Life?
The question I was left with was: should there be?
Should we be encouraging people to meet more 'virtually', or should we be trying to draw people back to a better appreciation of their first life?
A recent radio report told the story of a guy in SL who paid someone to build a skyscraper for him. He then went inside and got the guy to pull it down around his ears. He wanted to experience what his brother had been through at 9/11. Just before it happened, a crowd gathered. 'You can't do this,' some bayed, 'this isn't what SL is for! There should be no suffering!' Others screamed that this was precisely what SL was for. Someone asked 'I want out - Where's my Third Life?
The nasty truth is, all of life is mirrored in SL. There have been reports of rape, and child abuse, and theft and all manner of violence and corruption.
Where should the church be in this? Should we just leave people to it, and bemoan their sad lives?
I had this funny idea of a virtual incarnation. What if Jesus turned up on SL? What if God hacked it? A baby was born, and grew up there and went around doing good... preaching that there was more to life, that they needed to be born again... back into their original, first life, blessing? Doubtless they'd be murdered. Doubtless resurrection would be no problem.
I guess someone's going to have to log on and go help these people. If we don't, may even the poorly rendered stones will grow speech bubbles and shout out...