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Digital communication culture

“The colour of the world is changing day by day” – Les Miserables

Computers and digital media are changing the world. We need to be like the men of Issachar, “.. who understood the times and knew what Israel should do...” – 1 Chronicles 12:32.

There are now 1.5 billion users around the world, and the majority of them are in non-Western nations, especially the hard-to-reach ‘10-40 Window’ region. Many people look to the Internet as their first port of call for help and information on virtually anything.

There are two important issues to highlight:

1. Communication cultures

From the invention of the printing press and for the next 500 years, the West was to a large extent a ‘print communication culture’. In other words, ideas and concepts were communicated on sheets of paper. This transformed not only communication of the Gospel, but also the very way church was structured, and everything it did. Once they could read and write, people’s brains were wired differently. In other words, their whole culture was transformed.

From about 1950 onwards, radio and TV became the dominant media, and this period has been called a ‘broadcast communication culture’. Now, from the turn of the Millennium, digital media are prevalent, and we live in a ‘digital communication culture’. Those who were born around 1990 can be said to have been born into this culture. They usually grew up with computers from an early age. Those of us who are older are really only ‘immigrants’ to this new land. Perhaps even occasional bewildered ‘tourists’.

The vital point is that in this new digital world, which is also strongly influenced by ‘postmodern’ and post-Christian ideas, every sort of communication is changing. Whether we communicate in print, by radio, or face-to-face, the ground rules are changing. This digital communication culture is much nearer to the ‘oral communication cultures’ of many parts of the world. It is much more story-based, visual, and based on dialogue.

2. Brochureware

Printed paper is essentially a one-way broadcast medium. It is also largely ‘linear’ - you start at the beginning and read to the end, unless it is a newspaper, magazine or reference book where you may pick and choose. The Web however is the ultimate pick-and-choose medium. People only read what they are interested in. And they want to be in control, and use the interactive nature of the Web to connect with others.

So, for example, if we create church websites that are like static brochures, we are failing to use the medium according to its strengths.

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