Media Ecology

For a number of years I have contemplated on how our worship has been effected by the invasion of technology.  There is a difference in the experience of worship in an environment driven by technology, and that which finds aid from physical properties and aesthetics of the room in which worship occurs.  My consideration of such matters in earlier days of music ministry leadership were focused on the acoustical setting and influence of platform dominance in worship, whether from guitars and microphones or pipe organs, as contrasted with listening for the sounds of singing that comes from people in the pew, acoustically developed in a given room built for such purposes.  As more technology has entered the sanctuary there is more to consider in the area of vision as well as sound.  How might our worship be effected by a speaker or singer standing on the platform verses how they appear sixteen feet tall projected on a large screen.  For some time I have wished that someone would research the difference in reading from a screen where words are projected and illuminated, verses reading from the printed page, where words can be touched so to speak.  I knew from personal experience that reading from the printed page seems to have better staying power for me, either by virtue of the ability to review the words, or simply by virtue of the fact that screen texts come in six to eight word increments and are gone before they soak in.  In the case of worship, I have no control to be able to re-read a lyric, or scripture, since the A/V guy is running the computer.  I also heard Marva Dawn once speak about the tactile experience of her grandmother’s finger pointing out the text of the hymn as the they were sung pointing word by word for Marva to follow.  She spoke of its effect on her at the time, and even later as she reflected on worship that took place standing alongside family.

I have recently come to find out there is an area of study called media ecology.  I sure wish I had stumbled into this academic arena several months ago as it would have been helpful in writing assignments.  The essence of the field is to study how media and media developments and usage effects our environments.  In the case of worship this is right down the pipe of what I have been wondering about for some time.  For some people such research is in itself a waste of time – the folks I know of this ilk have long since drunk the koolaid that celebrates all things media and technological, usually with little consideration of its impact beyond the immediate intention.  Sociological study of these things helps us understand that the introduction of any “change” in culture always introduces a domino effect of other changes, whether reasoned or intended or not (usually not).  The introduction of the telephone, for instance, allowed voice to voice conversations over long distances in “real time,” but it also reduced the amount of letter-writing, which in time actually reduced the number of adjectives in use for everyday speech.  If you don’t believe this, go and look up an obituary from the 18th or early 19th Century, and note the string of descriptors used to draw a word picture for readers.  Fast forward to our day, where we baby boomers are still writing those paragraph long emails (how antiquated), whereas our kids and grandkids are bored to tears by anything longer than a three to six word text message.  There is a subsequent whole new vocabulary.  While I understand what “LOL, and OMG” stand for I have a more and more difficult time sensing any nuance whatsoever in their brevity.

To bring this discussion to bear more directly on the worship environment, I wonder how WORD based we really are in our worship, and how long it might be before we de-word that space and sound chamber as well.  You may wonder if I am just an old fuddy duddy who is anti-technology, or stuck in the 60’s mentality of worship environment.  I sure hope not!  I pray instead that my concern is for our careful design of the worship environment and materials that we might move to make changes judiciously and cautiously, seeking to enhance the clarity of the message of Christ.  I pray our over-riding concern is to make Christ known, hide ourselves in Him, and to worship Him on His terms through the means He has provided.

Explore posts in the same categories: Singing Worship, Worship Reminders, Worship thoughts

5 Comments on “Media Ecology”

  1. Nancy Shelton Says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Much thought needs to go into our worship, and not just the latest technology. One thing I really miss by not using the hymnal is harmony. Hymnal singing is where I learned to sing alto, and read notes. I’ve noticed that many children today don’t know how to sing from a hymnal.

    I do like how people lift up their head to sing while looking at a screen. I guess I would like it if we could incorporate both into our services.

    • pclarkjr Says:

      Maybe we need to have people memorize the hymns like the Moravians use to do, then they could sing harmony and hold their heads up and sing the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as truly their own. It is interesting to consider that for the first 1500 years of Christianity we did not even have the printed Word.

  2. Roger Allen Says:

    Paul,
    Your article struck a chord with me and the way my ministry has and continues to use technology in our corporate worship at my church. I had the privilege of playing with my 2 year old grandson this weekend and was intrigued by his ability to navigate “Pop’s” computer but can hardly talk yet! Technology is here to stay.
    “I hate that screen,” I have heard from parishioners. “I love the outline on the screen,” from others. It seems that “on the screen” has its own followers for our congregation. And whether that is to or from “truth in worship” is up to the individual. For me, I attempt to bring the congregation into His presence with whatever means possible. I “preach” that we are not to do anything to the glory of any one other than the One. With that mind set I try to use the different forms of media; projection, microphones, speaker volume, stereo, etc. to make The Message be more clear and edifying together and individually. It is my prayer that though we can’t all agree to love technology that our technology reflect the message of love from the Father that will be farther reaching than petty squabbles that eat away at the unity that our God loves and expects as we Christians worship Him. May we always, whether looking forward at “the screen” or down at a book, open our hearts in worship to receive His message so we can be blessed and be a blessing through and by Him; that those who are not in The Family will want to become part of The Family because they see Jesus in us.

    • pclarkjr Says:

      Roger,

      Thank you for your open reflections and for wrestling with these issues as do we all to one extent or another. Our biggest trap likely lies not in the technology itself, but rather our misplaced thoughts that we are going to woo persons into the Kingdom and into worship through our technological devices, or our well weathered books. The presence of the Spirit is the power to save as He makes Himself known through the Word, through His children, through whatever means He finds acceptable on a given day.

      My appeal to all of us who have responsibility to plan and lead in worship is that we approach our opportunity with prayerful submission to His Spirit, and with reflective reverence, knowing that every selection and decision is another action in “handling the Holy.”

      I recommend reading a little book by T. David Gordon entiteled “Why Johnny Can’t Preach.” The book addresses the state of preaching and how media has come to have effect on the message.

      Bless you for taking your service seriously.


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