I’d like to direct readers’ attention to a new online journal, Second Nature, dedicated to “critical thinking about technology and new media in light of the Christian tradition,” founded by a faculty friend and two former students of mine from Wheaton College, Dr. Read Schuchardt, Benjamin Robertson, and Brantly Millegan.
Thanks to the myth of the idea of progress, most people nowadays, including most Christians, assume technology is an unalloyed good. This attitude is often coupled with the assumption that a given medium is a neutral, translucent channel, that the form of a given medium is irrelevant for the transmission of whatever content.
Neither of these assumptions is necessarily true, however, as media ecologists such as Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman and more recently Nicholas Carr have pointed out. Technology is not an unalloyed good, and media are not neutral but shape (indeed, are) the message they purport to represent. Technological innovations change things, both for worse and for better (think of what changes the printing press, rural electrification, television, and the internet have wrought), and form and content cannot be neatly separated.
To my thinking, Christians do not do nearly enough thinking about technology and media. Instead of critical reflection, we usually encounter unreflective, enthusiastic assertions that we need to do ever more with new media and use more technology in our worship services (even in the Catholic world).
I suppose very much that churches need a crisp, sharp internet presence, and blogs and the friends I made online (with, for instance, Amy Welborn and First Things’ own David Mills) played a large role in my own conversion to Catholicism, and the irony that I’m blogging this notice about an online journal isn’t lost on me. But we should not be naive about how media and technology today—largely through the ubiquitous presence of screens presenting alternative realities and anti-reproductive biotechnologies of abortion, contraception, and sterilization—make our culture ever more gnostic.
In light of the irreality that is our reality, a journal raising the critical questions about media and tech is to be welcomed, and so I commend to you Second Nature. The lead article is by Eric McLuhan, Marshall McLuhan’s son, entitled “The New Nomads: Eight Characteristics of the Electric Mass Audience.” You might also read Read Schuchardt’s “The Medium is the Messiah: McLuhan’s Religion and its Relationship to His Media Theory.”