Weekend Reading: Flickering Pixels
The Book: With a background in the world of advertising, Shane Hipps has a fairly unique view of the effects of media on individuals, their communities, and their faith. The biggest problem is that he fails to give us much of anything new. Flickering Pixels (2009, Zondervan) intends to inform the believer and the church of the impact of technology on their faith; and he sees most of this impact as negative.
Hipps follows the history of technology, primarily communications technology, from the middle ages and a mostly oral communications tradition through the rise of the printed page to our current image, computer, and internet based communications environment. It cannot be argued that these technologies shape our faith and the way it is expressed and communicated.
The author makes the case that during the age of the predominantly oral communication tradition, the story of faith was a narrative communicated by retelling the stories of the Bible, especially the Gospels. This is reflected in the wide use of stained glass in the cathedrals of Europe. (I wrote about that here.) With the advent of movable type and the transition to a more literate culture, western culture became more linear in its thinking. Our way of thinking became reflective of the lines on a page. This is even demonstrated in the way churches are physically arranged. According to Hipps, “The medieval church didn’t have pews – just a wide-open space for standing. After the printing press, church seating started to mirror the page of a book.” He also says this is when the writings of Paul attracted more attention. Since they are not stories, they were difficult for an oral tradition. One our thinking became more linear in nature, the Epistles began to make much more sense.
In our current internet age, especially with the development of social networking media, we are more connected and more detached than ever. We are always on, always connected and rarely have real time to sit and think, process, read a book, or truly enjoy deep fellowship with others.
The Point: I think the main idea of Flickering Pixels is best captured by the author in the epilogue he titled “Bend”:
I was ten when I met William Lo. My dad had returned home from one of his many business trips to China. William was his Chinese counterpart and a translator who had returned for a meeting. He became a friend of the family and stayed with us whenever he was in town. He was probably sixty, but he didn’t look a day over forty.
I remember waking and looking out the window to see our Chinese friend in the backyard performing what looked like a slow-motion dance. He would sway and lean as though responding to the wind. His arms would trace delicate, controlled arcs through the air. I later learned he was a master of an ancient martial art calle Tai Chi and had been performing this two-hour ritual every morning for the last four decades.
Every now and then, William would teach me a few simple techniques. Once, he invited me to push him as hard as I could. I backed up and ran straight at him, throwing all my strength into his chest, only to find myself face down on the ground behind him. It was as though I had traveled right through him. As I got up, he said, “Now I’m going to push you lightly. Try to resist me with all your strength.” I stood my ground as he offered a gentle nudge. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground again. At this point he shared a secret: “When someone pushes you,” he said, “do not resist the force, or it will overtake you. Instead, you must understand the force and cooperate with it. Only then will you disarm it.”
That day I learned that what doesn’t bend, breaks.
This is a helpful observation. It is appropriate to study culture, technology, and other relevant topics. This helps us to interact with and use these things without them owning us.
The Result: Flickering Pixels was easy to read with short chapters and simple language. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of using complicated language to communicate a complicated message. Hipps successfully avoided this.
On a personal level, I only found the book marginally helpful. It struck me as a little pessimistic about the impact of technology. I think it presented more of the negative impacts and not enough positive impacts. Also, most of the ideas presented in the work were not new to me. Whether things I had read or heard elsewhere, or things that had occurred to me while thinking about the use of many of these technologies, I was already conscious of these concepts.
It was not a bad book. I would not recommend it a s a priority to read. It would be interesting to someone, especially a church leader who has not given much thought to the use of technology by his church or the individuals who make up the church.