I’ve been very blessed in the last few months to have been asked to work on three projects related to online spiritual community. The first project was a research and article project for Leadership Network which was passed out at this year’s Buzz Conference. That piece focused on churches’ use of social networking software and sites and can be found here. The second was the chapter I was asked to craft for The Wikiklesia Project‘s first book – Voices of the Online World – on the Legitimacy and Limits of Online Relationship. This book was just published this past Monday. The third project I’m working on now is a chapter on churches’ use of online tools in their efforts to address social justice issues and provide social relief for a forthcoming Crossway book .
This work has lead me to some rethinking of a dynamic I’ve blogged on quite a bit: the declining cost of information. I still believe that is a significant dynamic. As information declines in cost through technological development (e.g. printed page, radio, television, internet) society is disrupted and changed. But the use of the term “information” tends to only apply to the broadcast aspect of these emerging technologies – i.e. the info is primarily moving in one direction.
While information costs will continue to decline, what is becoming even more interesting is the declining cost of interaction. It seems to me that this is a better term to encapsulate the dynamic we’re now seeing because it better captures the two-way conversation now available to us in non face-to-face contexts. This growing phenomenon and its relational implications also helps to explain why churches are increasingly becoming interested and involved in this space.
I believe we are at the very early stages of this and there are challenges. At the Buzz Conference in DC in June, I had the chance to interview LifeChurch.tv‘s Innovation Leader Bobby Gruenewald about their foray into the Second Life metaverse. One challenge they are now facing, as are many other businesses as reported in this recent Frank Rose piece in Wired Magazine (ht: Kenny Sheppard), is that Second Life is struggling to keep up with the sheer number of folks that are entering their alternative universe. Individual avatars or even entire locations can disappear under the load. But technology will catch up and increasingly immersive experiences should be possible.
In the final analysis, it is not the bright and shiny new technologies that will be the most significant factor in these developments. What will be most transformative will be the increasing ease with which folks will be able to interact with ever-widening social circles. It is, of course, the social effect that will be most interesting.
This space truly offers unprecedented kingdom opportunities as the cost of interaction continues to decline. But we must remember that the critical engine of kingdom growth in these contexts continues to be the vitality of our personal relationship with Jesus and the health of our spiritual communities, where ever they might form.