Those Flickering Pixels

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a promise to write about it. Getting a free book on a topic you’re profoundly interested in = awesome. Read other participating blogs if you’re interested.

Shane Hipps has some very important things to say in his new book Flickering Pixels, where he explores the hidden power of technology, particularly as it pertains to the life of faith. His conclusions aren’t always easy to receive, particularly for Christians who are heavily invested in cutting-edge media, but I think that critiques of technology have been far too casually dismissed as “Luddite” or “Amish.”

But name-calling too easily devolves into a simple “for” and “against” binary opposition, which does no service to the cause of careful thought. Hipps avoids this type of simplistic thought admirably, and while some might find him overly negative, it’s a much needed corrective to our usual lack of critical thought in this area.

Hipps helps us understand media better by trying to define just what it is. He says that all media have four dimensions:

  1. amplification or extension (being able to reach more people)
  2. every new medium makes an older technology irrelevant or obsolete
  3. every new medium retrieves some experience or medium from the past (for example, the surveillance camera–designed for protection–replicates the ancient city wall)
  4. every new medium, when pushed to an extreme, will revers on itself, revealing unintended consequences. For example, the Internet was designed to make information more easily accessible, thereby reducing ignorance. But too much information or the wrong kind of information reverses into overwhelming the seeker, leading to greater confusion rather than clarity.

It is the last item on the above list that reveals how we normally don’t think about the common drawbacks of the media in our lives, although they’re never far from us. And it is the fact that we don’t normally notice media and it’s effects (regardless of the content) that makes it so potentially harmful, particularly in the life of faith.

Examples could abound–and they do in Hipps’ book–but I won’t recount them here. (I will likely post a few excerpts over the next little while, however.) What I will do is to say that we desperately need more critical engagement with media, technology, and the ways in which our best-intentioned uses of them can subvert our best intentions to communicate the Gospel. Hipps does so in a clear, engaging book that any Christian who thinks and serves at the intersection of faith and media should read, ponder, and take very seriously.

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