The main premise of Flickering Pixels is that technology has a profound impact on how we think, feel, react and, well, everything. The take away isn’t so much that technology is bad, but that we need to be aware of how it shapes us. In some ways Flickering Pixels reads like a love letter to Marshall Mcluhan. If you’re not familiar with McLuhan, he coined the phrase “The medium is the message,” and pushed other ideas about the importance of the medium in communication. That’s the primary purpose here, as Hipps translates McLuhan’s ideas to our deeply connected technological age.
Hipps argues that the technological innovations of humanity have changed our culture drastically. We have volumes and volumes of knowledge safely stored in books, but our capacity to remember anything has greatly diminished (now that my cell remembers phone numbers, I don’t have to-so I don’t). The printed word paired with efficiency of the English language has put a premium on reason and logic that left a profound mark on Western Culture (like reducing the gospel to “The Four Spiritual Laws”). Sometimes Hipps takes his argument too far, like claiming the linear arrangement of church pews has a connection the the linear arrangement of text on a page, but in general he has a point. Our mediums–be it pictures, the written word or Twitter–do have an impact on our message.
I think the real lesson is awareness of the drawbacks to various mediums. We need to understand the limitations of books and the drawbacks of video and the failures of the web. None of those things mean we can’t use those mediums, or that those mediums completely overwhelm the message (as McLuhan seems to claim), it just means we need to better understand the tools we use. Every tool has drawbacks and sometimes it’s easy to forget those in the in the face of the many benefits. But we must take time to think through the benefits and consequences of each piece of media we create, consume, or evaluate.
One of the Hipps points that resonated the most was a story involving an email confrontation. One of Hipps friend’s had offended someone and received a confrontational email that devolved into personal attacks, unfair allegations, and comments easily read as veiled insults. His friend was very hurt by this email. Some of the accusations were utterly false; others were based on assigning motives my friend didn’t have; all of them were conveyed with a lack of common courtesy. Shane advised his friend that instead of replying via email he should seek out the person face-to-face. Turns out the email had been more misunderstood and the person was more confused than angry, the sender apologized and the conflict was resolved. The story proves that the medium truly is the message, if the reply was sent through email the conflict may have exploded into something much worse, when in fact it was simply a misunderstanding.
Technology has become such a regular part of our lives in the past century we no longer stop to even think about the effect it has upon our mindsets and communication. Hipps sees this as a hidden influencer in our lives that shapes and traps us. “Our lack of awareness is what empowers the media to bully us.” Shane compares this to Jesus in the book of Matthew, Jesus understood the intimate connection between the methods and message, the container and the content. He tells us a new container (wineskins) must bear with it new content (wine); so also old methods (worn garments) will retain an old message (worn patch). Fasting was an important method for the Judaism of his day, and Jesus played with the method for the Judaism of his disciples to practice it in a different way. In this way, Jesus used a method to point to a new message. He pointed to a fresh gesture of God – not only new methods, but also a new message.
Even though I find value in stepping back and continually evaluating the effects of technology on my faith, I am afraid that Flickering Pixels reads as a warning against the uses of technology in the church — as if a wrong technological step in the modern church leads to heresy.
When Hipps references his previous career in marketing, he seems to be ashamed of his actions. His starting position is that his work of marketing luxury automobiles was morally wrong. In my opinion, the author seems to associate the use of technology to promote Christianity in the same skeptical light.
I would like to argue from a different perspective, as a pixel is the building block for an image, perhaps technology is a building block for successfully sharing the Christian faith. Although we should avoid uncritically accepting technology in our faith and cultures, it is important that we avoid the overreaction of skeptically dismissing technology. Here you will find some Christian Media Reviews.
Hipps book begins to stray from it’s purpose towards the end, drifting far from his message of technology shaping our faith and instead evolving into a quote on quote “typical evangelical book” with your standard call out to bringing our friends to faith, developing our faith, and for us becoming the medium as the message of Christ. While I think this is a great point and a wonderful message, he drifts so far from discussing technology I feel I’m simply reading any other Evangelical book.
Despite Hipps’ cynicism of technology and his digression from the topic, Flickering Pixels is a short, quick, and thought-provoking book worth reading. It calls to our minds the awareness and acknowledgement of the powers we are facing in technology.