Shane Hipps on Technology Shaping You in Unexpected Ways

Kent Shaffer —  October 7, 2009

Shane Hipps

For the fourth lab of Catalyst, Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels, discussed how technology shapes us in unexpected ways. Shane is an ex-adman turned Mennonite pastor. Here is what he said:

When I was in advertising and worked for Porsche, I had a sense that I was creating a counterfeit gospel. I left advertising because I did not agree with how it manipulated people’s lives. While in advertising, I learned about what influences consumer subcultures.

The implications of how technologies shape you are vast and deep.

ORAL CULTURE (<1500)
<tribes / empathy / intimate>

In order to understand community, we must go back in time to the age of oral culture. This means that you must rely on the people around you. You share stories with each other… repetitive, conservative stories. People in an oral culture tend to be very tribal and communal and empathetic.¬† They are intimate in their living conditions. And their acts of violence are passionate.

The technology of writing changes this.

LITERATE CULTURE (1500-1850)
<individuals / separate>

Writing separates you from the tribe. Reading and writing as a technology demands isolation. In order to read, you can’t interact with others well while reading. Literacy brings the rise of individualism. It makes relationships distant. It has the ability to be anonymous. You no longer have to know the communicator in order to know his thoughts.

ELECTRONIC AGE (1850<)
<
tribes of individuals / empathy at a distance / intimate anonymity>

The phonograph, the telegraph, and the radio revolutionized communication. Marshall McLuhan says, “The electronic age has given man an ear for an eye.” The separation experienced from literate culture is less destructive than what happens when oral cultures are fused through electronic media. It is a tangle of complex emotions. For example, while cell phones connect you with people digitally, they also separates you physically from the people closest to you. There are pros and cons.

Empathy at a distance is what happens when you sit down for dinner in front of the TV and you are emotionally engaged by the trauma on the news without being able to help. There may be an initial response, such as giving support to relief organizations. However, the human being was not designed to withstand human suffering all day every day. In order to survive, you grow numb, which leads to apathy not action.

Technology allows you to share intimate details with the masse. However, the way you preserve intimacy is by exclusive boundaries. The moment that curtain parts and everyone else is invited in there is no more intimacy.

Tech based communication lowers our inhibitions digitally the same way alcohol lowers inhibitions in person. For example, teens use social networks to do the following:

  • 92% keep in touch with friends (which is normal behavior)
  • 60% play a trick on someone
  • 44% ask someone out
  • 42% write something you wouldn’t say in person
  • 24% break up with someone

So what does all this mean?

The more aware you become of these dynamics, the better it is for you as a leader. The trick is to understand the paradox. And if you understand the paradox then you can be discerning. You can become more intentional about your relationships.

Technology is like food. Ice cream has a proper place in one’s diet, but if you only eat ice cream then you are in trouble. If you only consume tech communication, it is not healthy.

If you doubt that these online mediated relationships are less than in-person relationships, they are. They are thinner.

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Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.