I am coming to the end of a class on theology and media culture that has essentially focused on two main areas: television and social media--we have explored textual literacies, the consciousness shifts that attend the adoption or embrace of new technologies, and have examined the theological intersections and tried to determine key points of conversation and dialogue. The past couple of weeks we have focused particularly on social media platforms and conversation has turned to issues of community and privacy principally. I am never surprised that in religious enviornments the question of real versus virtual community is of some import but I am not sure it is the prime question to address. It seems that issues of privacy versus transparency might be even more important. We used to write in diaries, lock our thoughts away and keep them essentially private. Now, that has not disappeared completely, nothing ever does, but it has been eclipsed perhaps by another impulse--disclosure. Now the somewhat benile updates we post about where we are going, what we are eating, what music is playing on our ipods etc., are not necessarily the same as intensely personal and self-analytical diary entries, wherein we explore our innermost selves and say what we wouldn't say out loud perhaps, but I would not underestimate the transformative power of these updates--the transformation of us as individuals and our societies at large. How so?
The modern age was characterized by a fascination with privacy, secrecy really,--the British Official Secrets Act for example, but beyond public secrets, personal ones as well--the interior life was sacred ground-this seems to have given way to something else, not entirely other, not not the same. I don't think that all of this is particularly new, or totally dependent upon digital technologies for its manifestation, but the IT stuff has changed the pace of the game and thrown new ways of communicating into the mix and taken us to a whole new level of global interconnectivity. McLuhan spoke of TV as bringing us to a place of tribal consciousness--we became 'the human race' in ways we hadn't perceived before. Well, if that is the case, network technoligies have surely deepened that perception and brought us into closer experiential and virtual unities--we are connected as never before and many of the old ways of seeing ourselves are giving way to new possibilities and potentials.
The way we present ourselves to each other, the way we disclose ourselves, post pictures, reveal things etc has shifted the dynamic between privacy and openness I think. Something is happening, and it is multi-dimensional in its scope of trnasformation. In his "Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow writes,
"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come to cyberspace, the new homeof mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not wlecome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather."
The idea that the net is free space, free from all previous authroities, all previous codes of behaviour or ethic, is creating new awareness about how we perceive ourselves as human beings. Where that will take us depends on many things---there are lots of warnings and fears about 'big brother' type activities on the web, and that is surely one apsect but it doesnt have to be the exclusive focus.
I think I am getting a little lost inmy thoughts right now, kind of thinkng out loud but I sense a few issues I wans't planing on writing about beginning to emerge, so I'll end this post here and get back to you when I feel ready to address them.