Bishop Alan describes a Social Media Day in Oxford. The aim was to gather people working for the Church with an interest in communications, to scope the scene and its possiblities.
His own contribution was a piece on bishops and blogging, and here are two of his very good ten points on why bishops (and anyone else in Christian ministry) should blog. Bishop Alan’s Blog: Social Media, Church and Bishopping:
- Be yourself! Most of your colleagues only see you on formal occasions, or when they’re in trouble. This makes them think you’re a workaholic or policeman. You’re not, but how would they know? What you reveal in your blog adds dimensions to the way you are seen, for good or ill, usually for good unless you are a complete idiot.
- Take the initiative! People cometimes seek your views for their own reasons, time and context, often to make up stories — like the old round robin about how many bishops believe in God. The reality is they all do. The fantasy is they all don’t. You get caught in silly crossfire. Gazump this process by publishing your own views for your own reasons, in your own time and context, to tell your story. If anyone really wants to know what you believe all the information is in the public domain. If they’re just trolling or manipulating you, you don’t have to play.
One of the social media that seemed to be omitted from their social media day was electronic discussion forums (mailing lists), and that’s a pity.
I’ve been trying for more than 20 years now to get church people to see the value of electronic communications, and have largely failed. Yes, some bishops have blogs, and Bishop Alan gives very good reasons why they should do so.
But discussion forums wwere one of the earliest, and are still one of the most underutilised electronic tools.
They reached their highest and best form on Fido Technology Networks (FTNs) which flourished in the early 1990s, and were basically killed by Windows, which failed to provide a decent comms program for dial-up networks. Fido Technology networks had “echo” conferences, which were a true form of many-to-many conversation. Fido Technology networks, such as Fidonet and FamilyNet linked computer bulletin boards throughout the world in a cooperative network, run by a kind of private-enterprise socialism.
The Echo conferences could also be gated to or from usenet newsgroups and e-mail mailing lists, which made them more versatile, though news and mail had several technical limitations, which still exist. But you can still participate in e-mail mailing lists and start your own on a public host like YahooGroups.
How do they benefit the church?
I have been to numerous church meetings and conferences where people have gathered from around the country or around the world at great expense, to themselves, or more often their church. They get together for a few days or a week, eat food that they don’t have to cook (and usually don’t have to wash the dishes either) meet interesting people, hear interesting papers, and pass occasionally controversial resolutions that are soon forgotten when everyone has gone home.
At one period in my life I went to the annual conference of the Anglican Department of Theological Education. They would talk about theological education and training for ministry, and after about 20 minutes someone would say, “before we can talk about training for ministry we need to be clear about what a priest is” Out would come the felt-tip pens and newsprint and they would then discuss “what is a priest?” until it was time to go home, noting all the interesting points on the newsprint.
About the third meeting this happened I suggested that we save a bit of time by just putting up the newsprint from the last three meetings and move on from there, and everyone looked at me like I had crawled out from under a stone. Quite apart from anything else, it was all based on the assumption of a one-man-band style of ministry.
Two of the things that made such meetings unproductive were lack of preparation and lack of follow-up.
And preparation and follow-up are precisely what electronic discussion forums are good for. Get people discussing the agenda beforehand, so that the important issues can be pinpointed, the newsprint can be prepared beforehand, based on the electronic discussions (one could use more sophisticated tools nowadays, like overhead projectors or even the deaded Powerpoint presentation) to summarise the main points, and then get down to discussing what to do about it. And likewise the electronic forum can be used for tracking what has actually been done, or what has prevented it from being done.
But will church people use these tools?
Not a chance.
“I get too many e-mails already,” says one.
Right, so he prefers one-to-many communication to many-to-many communication. A preference for top-down style.
And if he sends out an e-mail on an important matter, and get ten responses, he must either ignore them, or write ten replies. But if it was on an electronic forum, each of the ten responders could read what all the other responders had written, and the guy at the centre (lets call him the “bishop”) need only write one reply for them all to see it.
The technology has been around for 30 years. It was improved around 20 years ago, but the improved version has been dropped. But we still have the old-fashioned mailing list, and it still works better than web forums.
But will people use it?
No. They prefer to arrive at conferences without preparation, and put it all behind them when they leave, until the next conference is held in Ougadougou or Geneva or Kolkata, with tours of the local sights and selected local ministries. And don’t forget the free lunch.