There is a question hanging over the Church on what to do with New Media. This was discussed in a recent conference in Sydney on New Media, organised by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
To give some idea on the difficulties posed by new media to an ecclesial form, one could refer to Felicia Wu Song Virtual Communities: Bowling Alone, Online Together, in an interview with Ken Myers in volume 108 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, spoke of a tendency within online communities to breed narrow interest groups that encourage sameness and resist appreciation of the differences that might exist in embodied communities.
To extrapolate from Song’s interview, what may end up happening with an over-reliance on social networking as a means of evangelisation is a commodification of the Gospel, in the sense that the Gospel is spread and Justice effected with a click of a “like” or “+1” button.
This is the case because all forms of communications media do not leave the message unchanged. Rather, as Neil Postman reminds us in Amusing Ourselves to Death, they come with a set of presuppositions on the formatting of the message, as well as the type of message, the type of person and the type of society that hears the message. Before one even lets out a peep or strikes a key online, the horizons of what can be communicated and how comes predetermined.
The next thing to note is that the Church does not come with a mere message. The Church is meant to be a Sacrament, an embodied manifestation of a transcendent reality that, by virtue of its transcendence, escapes full articulation. Furthermore, even when one acknowledges the aspects of transcendence that are revealed to us, the insistence on Christianity as an articulated message (where the mind is a medium) ignores the fact that much information circulates in our social environment that are not articulated in messages, but are circulated as unarticulated imprints that pass from one corporeal person to another (where the body is a medium). This is why as part of the spreading of the Gospel, Paul exhorts us in his Epistles to “offer our bodies as a sacrifice” as part of a “renewal of your mind”. To focus on the Gospel as an articulated message is to bypass the communication of another important aspect of the Gospel, that sacramental transcorporeal data that escapes precognition.
Does this mean that the Church should shun new media? The transcending of space would broaden the net of communication in a world where space is becoming virtualised. However, there must be an awareness that the contours of the Gospel are not left untouched by this virtualisation of space, and that the fullness of the incarnate word can only occur when space is reclaimed.