Retrospect: the Christian New Media Conference

I had intended to gather together a host of links so that those of you who weren’t able to attend the conference might get something of its flavour, but the sheer volume of material has overwhelmed me. In any case, I must admit I’m more interested in some of the questions the conference has thrown up, but first, I’d better explain my limitations. As a nun, my connection with the digital world is different from most people’s. My engagement stems from RB 53, Benedict’s teaching on hospitality, and a community commitment to ‘being hospitable’ online. It is an engagement hedged round with qualifications, notably the amount of time I can give and, to some extent, the subjects I can address (I know nothing about small children, for example). I’m not an expert in anything, but like most people who live a life of silence, I can ‘tire the sun with talking’. That’s my forte, and I’m sticking to it!

One of the themes that kept surfacing at the conference was the role of the #digicreative. I am all for beauty and technical excellence, but I found myself wondering more and more what a digicreative is and what he or she does. Creating content is more important than ‘creativity’ as such. One of the marvellous things about technological advances of recent years is that ANYONE, whatever their level of technical skill or artistic merit, can produce a blog or website with a host of features more or less out of the box. Having something worth saying or doing with the technology is another matter. I’d be very sorry if the Christian presence on the web and in social media ever got side-tracked into something secondary. I work on the basis that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. I tell myself that if I had the time, our web sites would be transformed; but I don’t, so they aren’t. Tough.

Another idea that interested me was that of the digital sabbath: turning off one’s phone and computer one day a week. We never do that here because we are, in a way, a ‘public organization’, but we do make it clear that we won’t necessarily respond to people instantly because we have other, and to us more urgent, calls on our time. We are, first and foremost, nuns and whatever value we can bring to our online engagement would disappear if we ever forgot that. But how does it work out for other people? To me, that need to switch off the phone, etc, suggests a degree of engagement I’ve never experienced. Is it possible that Twitter, Facebook and so on can become habit-forming? Is switching off the phone a way of reassuring oneself that one isn’t addicted or does it mean more focus on God and people offline? I’d love to know.

Perhaps the most important question the conference raised for me was purely theological. How does our online activity fit into and enhance our understanding of God and the Church? I came away with a renewed sense of the sacramentality of what we do online, in the sacred space that is the internet. It has been reinforced since by interaction with many of the people I met at the conference. I’d love to thank you all individually, but there’s one bit of ‘technology’ for which there is no upgrade: we’re stuck with the brains we are born with, and mine is unequal to the task. Thank you, everyone who was at the conference and made it so special.

Update
Here’s a link to some photos, videos, audio boos and blog posts on the Conference: http://bit.ly/nMBTO8

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15 thoughts on “Retrospect: the Christian New Media Conference”

  1. Thank you, Sister. I am glad we managed to meet and my heckling didnt put you off! You ask valid questions, which some of us have struggled with for years and will continue to do so – particularly me with only a few active brain cells left…

    Blessings and peace…

  2. Do you think the “digital sabbath” needs to be a Sunday or could be just one day a week that you switch off?

    Random question (And you’ve probably answered it somewhere else) How did you become a nun? How did you know that was what you were meant to do?

  3. a renewed sense of the sacramentality of what we do online, the sacred space that is internet … Ah, I like this very much.

    As far as FB is concerned, I find it habit-forming… I gave it up two years ago for Lent 🙂 I could do it again.

    Thank you for a fabulous reflection here today.

    • I think giving up FB for Lent would be really really really tough but then it might be more of a sacrifice because it would be hard. I’ve given up chocolate and meat the last few years.

  4. You say that you do not use a digital sabbath in your community. However, I understand that part of your discipline is for periods of silence and I wonder whether an electronic silence can provide a similar opportunity for some of us to focus on God as your silence does for you.

    • Thank you, Michael. I think it does depend on why you are turning off your phone, etc. It is possible, even in a monastery, to have selfish silence, i.e. to be more concerned with not being bothered by others than with focusing on God. I just wonder whether electronic silence could be open to similar use/abuse.

  5. Thanks for this analysis and the link -much appreciated.
    I do agree that there are many questions and the concept of us all being reflexive practitioners is important.
    I think the ” packaging” of what we say is fascinating. I often think of people like Merton, Julian of Norwich, and other people that are key influences in my life and how their work and message would have been influenced by new media- would they have made the same impact ?
    Thanks and blessings

  6. I find the idea of a digital sabbath interesting, but find that the Rule of Life I have embraced as an oblate with the Anglican Dominicans ensures I have plenty of space for prayer and study each day. Silent time is incorporated into this and I do not feel that being connected digitally is a distraction.

    • Thank you, Muriel. I suppose it does rather depend on what one does for a living and so on and so forth. I sometimes forget that several times a day I am at prayer, so neither phone nor computer is allowed to distract me. I have quite enough distractions to contend with inside without any coming from outside!

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful reflections Sister.

    To add some thoughts on digital sabbath, I made a personal decision nearly a year ago not to use social media on Sundays – this was in response to a talk I heard with Rob Bell where he challenged people to think of something they couldn’t imagine not doing – and choosing not to do that on Sundays (or whatever your sabbath day is). The first thing that came into my mind was facebook and Twitter! So I decided that it would be a useful spiritual discipline for me. I see it as my digital ‘great silence’.

    I was challenged by what you said at #cnmac11 about digital sabbath. I guess my own approach is that although I choose not to use social media on Sundays – or the Internet really – it doesn’t mean that I’m unavailable. I have notifications on my iPhone – it will blink at me if I have a message and I can see in an instant if it’s a friend in need.

    Just as Jesus said the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, I don’t see my digital sabbath in absolute terms. It’s just my way of creating a bit of space in my week to deliberately make time for God. As a nun, I know you get that silence every day!

    I don’t think I’d ever give up social media for lent. It’s a bit like saying you’ll give up the telephone or visiting friends – that’s not something possible to do for 40 days!

    Blessings,

    Bryony

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