Everything Mediated by Screens

Something struck me when I went to the U2 show earlier this month: many of the people seemed to watch nearly the entire show staring into their phones or cameras with which they were recording the concert. Now from where I was sitting, the large screens over the stage dwarfed the actual band. So what were people recording? In large part it was probably the video projections of the band on those giant screens.

In other words a large segment of people at that show payed top dollar so they could look into a 2-3″ screen as they created a lo-fi recording of a video display instead of just watching U2 play. I figured it was futile to point out to them that buying the inevitable concert DVD might have better served their purposes. I bring this up because Andrew’s post about technology and protestantism reminded me of it. What happens when more and more of our lives are lived through the mediation of computer or cell phone screens?

Part of it is objectifying – now in the case of U2, that objectification has been very profitable, but what about the church. Now Christians can pick their favourite super star pastor and objectify their preaching. The reverse side of this is that such an ability allows them to regular weigh the local preacher in the balance against the Big Name. Looking through a screen on YouTube, you get a very small dimension of what a church or a pastor is actually like. In turn this allows us to carry on our fantasies about how much better it would be if we could just go to that other church with that awesome pastor we see on the internet.

As with all fantasies, our YouTube pastors are only a narrow band of the real person. What’s wrong with that? Well, here’s an example: I know of one pastor whose sermons do appear online and whose church is quite large and growing – in other words, a classic fantasy pastor. Wouldn’t it be amazing to go to this guy’s church, you could be in the audience, you could go up to him afterwards and ask him all kinds of theological questions. Except not really. As gifted a speaker as this pastor is on stage, the man is almost painfully introverted once the mic is switched off.

Now I want to be careful because I don’t want to say that every pastor ought to be a hyper-extrovert running around shaking hands like a political candidate, but I do imagine that it partially completes the fantasy of an ideal pastor – the viewer online could just go up and start asking questions. Of course this is just one example, there are I am sure things about any pastor with a substantial following online that would catch all the internet disciples off-guard.

Of course what is true of fantasy church is just that which is true of all fantasies and just as no one goes to a renaissance fair to experience renaissance-era dentistry, and no one  becomes a Civil War re-enactor to actually have their limbs cut off, no one watches a pastor on YouTube to experience all the messy, or mundane, or unfulfilling parts of church life.

We can experience real, authentic connection with people over the internet, we can share, and learn, and grow, but we can also be trapped in a fantasy, and that is arguably the great danger for many Christians.