No Internet without Augustine

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“The job of an historian is not to make the past familiar but to make the present strange”  said Ciarán Mc Mahon as an introduction to his lecture at #ECIC18.

The lecture will be made available online [I will insert the link when this is done], there is no need for me to rephrase the presentation.

One idea, however, made me think. It is often said that the Internet is computer mediated communication, but Ciarán Mc Mahon disagrees. The Internet is an environment. Web designers try to bridge the gap between the users and let them experience direct presence. The Internet is – in the users’ experience – a new environment with new manners of behavior, it is direct, not mediated communication.

When we are online we are in a different conceptual space. There is no “tone”, no emotional message in text-based communication. Online relationships are quite different than face-to-face communication. (It would be interesting to know what Ciarán Mc Mahon regarding the increasing usage of videos, audios and photos in online communication.)

To understand the 21st century, it may sometimes be helpful to look at the past. Up to the 2nd and 3rd century AD, reading was very much a social event. For example, Plato’s philosophical writings were written on a scroll. These scrolls were read in public and discussed by the audience. Platonists and patristic fathers have conceptualized where the souls. Augustine converted the platonic  notion into an inner man or an inner consciousness. Interestingly, at the same time, in the 4th century AD, private reading become more common, codices were used instead of scrolls. Of course, reading a codex by yourself is more practical than reading from a scroll. Silent reading was critical to Augustine’s conversion when he heard the inner voice: tolle, lege, take the book and read. Thus Augustine was able to focus on one’s internal life.

We still rely on Augustine’s notion of conceptual space when we use the Internet. Imagine if we were to read out emails and text messages aloud in public. For online communication we use the concept that communication happens within one’s internal life. Therefore, Internet communication happens in a different environment than face-to-face communication when we share the same physical space with the person or persons we are communicating with.

Reading or online communication is no less real than face to face communication but it uses a different conceptual environment.

Augustine gave us a framework how to conceptualize and how we experience the Internet. Sometimes a look at the past lets us see the presence in a new way.

iTunes is becoming a legacy problem for users who want to switch to Android just like Microsoft Office was for PC users who wanted to change to a Mac.

Adrian Weckler at #ECIC18. What an irony

Northland, A Church Distributed

Northland, A Church Distributed

Is Tradition static? The Tension between Tradition and Innovation

“Tradition and innovation: the tensions of a maturing Internet“ – when I twittered I was leaving for the conference and mentioned title I got an immediate reply and a question:

Could we say that theologically it’s a question of the redefinition/reworking of tradition, with innovation as a guide?

Theologically, we can answer the question regarding innovation with a reference to 1. Thess 5,21:

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Innovation is no value in itself but it must serve a purpose, it must foster the sharing of the Good News. Innovation is dynamic.

Is there a tension between innovation and tradition? Is tradition static?

The term “tradition” is an important concept in the history of salvation. Traditio in Latin, the Greek New Testament uses the paradosis, means handing over or handing down, deliver. The same word is used to denote both handing over of Jesus to be crucified and handing over or delivering the good news of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion to us.

Taking the two-fold meaning of tradition, it is clear that tradition is not only static, it is also dynamic  because it denotes an action, the handing over of Jesus. Without that action, there would not have been the crucifixion and without crucifixion there would not have been the resurrection, the Good News would not have been completed.

Tradition links us back to the story of Jesus. Therefore we need tradition and as Christians we cannot live without that tradition. Innovation is a tool to promote that story of salvation but it is not the content of that tradition.

Is there a tension between tradition and innovation. I hope there is productive tension and I am very much looking forward to exploring this tension during the next days at #ECIC18