As a thought experiment, think about the last five screens with images on them that you saw: what type of content was being communicated to you?
Business, advertising and entertainment are the realm of the screened image.
Scholars studying the field of online education are skeptical about screen-based education because of the association with aesthetic pleasure it creates in the mind of its audience.
One recent study observed, “because visual media are normally used in our culture to provide aesthetic pleasure, in the form of entertainment, the use of visual media in education tends to break down the distinction between education and entertainment.” (a)
The link between a medium and the messages it normally communicates must not be understated. (b) Presentation technologies are primarily employed in the business world and the world of entertainment. After all, business and entertainment are the two areas where screens are used most commonly; advertising, movies, sales pitches, and video games all feature projected images. The connotations these tools carry are varied for different people but there is certainly a common thread between the use of these technologies and the expectations that it creates in culture at large.
My point in this account is simple but I think it is profound: the waves of advertising and entertainment encountered in daily life are increasingly communicated via presentation technologies. (c) As a result, the decision to modify the practice of the church in corporate worship to include these presentation technologies is risking a lot for the marginal returns that come from it. (d)
What is the risk? Consider this analogy: if six days of the week are spent driving on the right side of the road, what would be the effect of switching to the left side of the road for one to two hours each Sunday? Using screens to take in advertising and entertainment throughout the week predisposes congregants to react with certain instinctive responses when screens are pressed into service as platforms for holy meditation and participation in worship. The visual 'seen' is always competing for attention with the 'heard'. A tool that carries the same DNA as the presentation technologies of the broader culture which have contributed to the decline of 'hearing' should be treated with utmost caution and ultimately avoided if possible. (e)
(a) Louis Tietje and Steven Cresap, “Hegemonic Visualism,” Radical Pedagogy (2005)
(b) Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Massage (New York: Bantam Books, 1967)
(c) I am not saying that I am opposed to presentation technologies outside of the context of corporate worship. As I continue to learn more about the effects of these technologies on the brain and the psyche I think it is wise for individuals to reflect on their own consumption habits. In the context of corporate worship, I argue that it is unnecessary and detrimental to the basic principles of corporate worship that the church is bound to uphold.
(d) Pragmatic and financial returns must be judged as subordinate to the significant effects such a change might have on the piety and vitality of the church.
(e) Yes, it is possible to not put a screen in a church in the 21st century. Picture a projector screen in a monastery or another 'sacred' space. Screens are uniformly obtrusive and an intrusion of our own lust for technology in a space that should be timeless and conducive to meditation, listening, and corporate singing. For more resources on digital tech's dehumanizing impact, consult Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011).
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