Did you join in yesterday’s protests against SOPA? I didn’t, because I thought I couldn’t legitimately protest against proposals in American law, but the more I think about it, the more I consider I should in some way have joined the voices rising up against it. As this BBC article puts it, we are talking about something that would mean the USA deploying similar tactics to those used by China and Iran.
If anyone understands the effect of the Internet and social media on our society and the world, it’s Clay Shirky. Watch this video to hear why the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation in the USA is dangerous for us all:
Here are the problems. There is a media industry that only wants us all to be passive consumers (how bad is that, anyway?). It does not want mere mortals to produce and to share content. This isn’t merely about copyright piracy, this is about enthusiastically saying to our friends, “Look what I’ve found” – something you would think they would be keen to promote. Already we are in a situation where bakeries cannot reproduce children’s drawings of cartoon characters onto cakes, because it’s illegal to copy an image of Mickey Mouse.
Thus, the industry wants to obliterate all established distinctions between legal and illegal sharing. It wants to make ordinary citizens criminals, alongside the pirates.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation reverses the historic burden of proof so that we are guilty until proved innocent, and if that’s not dangerous, I don’t know what is.
None of this is to condone piracy. As a Christian, I do not support theft of items for profit any more than I support burglars who raid a house and sell the items in the pub. But most of what ordinary people share on the Internet is not comparable to that. There is no financial motive.
In any case, there is ample legislation already on copyright piracy. The original Napster was brought to trial. So too was Limewire. What’s the problem? Shirky says the problem is effort. The media companies don’t want to bother with tedious matters like gathering evidence.
Neither am I completely against censorship. I am not a libertarian. As a parent, I have concerns about material my children could accidentally find on the Internet. But these bills are not about that.
And this affects us all, because the Internet by definition cannot be confined to one nation. If this legislation were to pass, the US Congress would be further codifying that terrifying concept of American exceptionalism, effectively allowing a digital American invasion anywhere and at any time.
I ask my American friends if they would lobby their elected representatives. For the rest of us, we need to find ways of legitimate and ethical protest, raising our voices in opposition to legislation that only has the interests of wealthy corporations at its heart.
You are welcome to try persuading me otherwise, but this sounds like laws bought by the millions of dollars of corporate lobbying, to favour its clients against ordinary people. Surely that’s wrong?
We know the decimation of the music industry in the face of digitisation. A whole industry looked for a beach full of sand and buried its collective heads.
Thankfully, there are some signs that in the world of writing and publishing, there are some more visionary leaders. Take this Guardian interview with John Makinson, the head of Penguin books. He knows that devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad are changing the landscape, now that Amazon’s US operation sells more e-books than hardbacks. He envisages all sorts of added value content in ebooks. Steve Ballmer knows that Microsoft needs to play catch-up. What are the pros and cons? A few thoughts:
1. Carrying around 3500 books with you on one small device, such as you can with a Kindle, has to be amazingly appealing.
2. Being able to search a book, rather like you do a Word document or a PDF, must also be a terrific advantage.
3. There is a clear focus from Makinson and others on the core issue, which is the promotion of good writing, rather than holding up soon-to-be-outdated structures. See Clay Shirky’s recent thoughts about newspapers and jounalism: the question isn’t protecting papers with paywalls, it’s a concern for journalists. Hence why I refer to the writing industry, not the newspaper industry or the publishing industry, even if what we are talking about is new forms of publishing.
4. More negatively, will we take in less cognitively this way? It’s generally accepted that people absorb about 25% less information on a PC screen than on hard copy. Will the same be true for 6 inch screens, even with e-ink?
5. What about the financial implications for smaller publishers, given the cash flow problems of independent publishers or the well-documented difficulties of Christian bookshops and publishers? Will they simply have to persist with print while the rest of the world marches on, or will this finish them off?
What do you think?
When I was a young Christian, I wanted contemporary Christian music covered on Radio 1. When they covered the Greenbelt Festival, I was delighted. I wanted them to play Christian music, but I was embarrassed at the infamous attempt by Christians to get the band Heartbeat into the charts with their song ‘Tears From Heaven’. It was when well-known evangelical-charismatic preachers started saying it was the right thing to do that it was obvious something was wrong. It wasn’t their area of expertise, and one of the campaigners, Colin Urquhart, had one of his offspring in the band. I still wanted Christian music on ‘secular’ radio, but never understood just how much the BBC had to chase the coat tails of the commercial stations. Nor did I understand the irony of getting what was or should have been a counter-cultural message to have a mainline hearing.
Skip to my mid-thirties. I’m in my first appointment as a minister in the town of Hertford. A bunch of us are running youth worship events in the town, in church halls, a disused shop and eventually in the local night club, Zero. We call our event ‘One@Zero’. Some of our number have been going down to Littlehampton in Sussex to witness a youth worship event called ‘Cutting Edge’, led by what was called the Cutting Edge Band. That band morphed into Delirious? The teenagers at our event and we leaders followed them with interest and enthusiasm. When they started releasing singles in order to get into the charts, we all went and bought them. In fact, Hertford’s local independent record/CD shop, Tracks, used to supply a weekly Top 10 sales chart to the local newspaper. So we piled in there to buy them in the week of release. When ‘Deeper’
was released and made number 20 nationally, it was number one in the Hertford chart.
As they released more singles, we bought them. They had a few more to make the lower end of the Top 20, roughly comparable with other cult bands of the time. Nevertheless, the influential Chris Evans infamously refused to book them for his hit TV show TFI Friday, and Radio 1 still shunned them – something Q Magazine covered sympathetically at the time. It got to the point that the band called one of their albums ‘Audio Lessonover‘, an anagram of ‘Radio One Loves Us’. The singles eventually stopped, and they concentrated on their huge influence on the contemporary worship movement with evangelical-charismatic Christianity and beyond. I guess Christians shouldn’t have been surprised the band didn’t become the hoped-for darlings of the Smash Hits crowd. But you live and learn.
History repeats itself.
Because it’s happening again. Only in a different way, powered by social media. The principles of Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ are being applied by Christians. Facebook groups have sprung up, not orchestrated by Delirious? (who recently split up, anyway), but by fans. The first one I saw was called ‘Anyone up for getting a No. 1 for Delirious?‘ The founder, Steve Jeffery, describes his motives this way:
So some dude managed to get Rage Against The Machine to No.1 for Christmas. Is anyone out there up for doing the same thing for Delirious? If you are then join this group. You need to download the track between the 29th Mar & 3rd April, the track will be History Maker, will all need to buy it from iTunes (or other download outlet) in the same week.
Please only join if you are actually going to commit to spend 75p on iTunes to make this happen. Spread the word and join now! I think it would be a great gift from us fans back to the band if we can make this happen!
You can see the social media connections. This is a people movement, like those who couldn’t face another saccharine X-Factor winner having the Christmas number one, and who successfully gave Simon Cowell a bloody nose by supporting a Rage Against The Machine track.
The second group – with, at present, more followers – is called ‘Christian music topping the UK charts!‘ This too is motivated by the people power of social media, as they make clear:
Although this initiative has not derived from the band I have been in touch with their record company (Furious Records) and they are more than happy for this initiative to take place and are excited to see how it unfolds!
Those two campaigns are specific, and apparently time-limited to getting people downloading the track ‘History Maker’
during Holy Week, so that Delirious? get the number one slot on Easter Day (which may not be commercially significant in the music industry, but obviously is for Christians).
To these must now be added a (so far tiny) group with a longer aim, ‘Christian chart music for a year‘, who say
Christian music seems to be lacking from todays chart – yet there is some cracking stuff out there. We intend to try and push for at least one christian artist in the UK Top 40 every week for the next year. We’re not bothered about number one’s.
We want to inspire debate. To have DJ’s questioning why they are playing christian music. For people to talk to each other about their beliefs. To see churches swell with people who are curious. To say that we have a voice and that we are being marginalised. This could be an icebreaker to openly talk about your faith with someone else.
Approximately 5000 people buying the same track in a week will secure us a top 40 hit. Please help to spread the message of Jesus.
What can I do?
1. Press the “Become a Fan” button up top there.
2. Tell all of your Christian friends. (Click “Suggest to friends” to the left)
3. Post your ideas and suggestions in the forum (click the “Discussions” tab)
4. Support the single of the week
These are interesting reasons. Despite my background in remembering past failed campaigns, I don’t want to say anything cynical, especially since some of these campaigns are attracting young Christians and I don’t want to be negative in a way that damages their faith, or alternatively so puts their backs up they become obstinate. Instead, I would invite discussion around a number of themes.
Firstly, how are we going to engage in the proposed debate? It is a laudable approach, though – better the conversational approach in an Internet campaign, I think. Therefore the debate needs to be peaceable, not confrontational.
Secondly, let’s tease out the concern about Christians having a voice and the fear of being marginalised. That is an ongoing worry for many Christians, and is being heightened by the looming General Election in the UK. Will we be listened to? We have a right to be heard as members of a democracy. What we don’t have is any right to special status. Indeed, Jesus warned that only a few would take the ‘narrow way’, and the biblical images of exiles, of strangers in a strange land, are uncomfortable ones that we may have to embrace (without that in any way meaning that we should be silent). If the campaign becomes one about Christian rights, I think we can be sure there is a real sense in which we will not gain a hearing, because we will alienate people – just the opposite of what is desired.
Thirdly, if this is to be an icebreaker, let’s make sure our conversation is ‘seasoned with salt’.
Fourthly, let’s think about what constitutes good Christian witness. It won’t simply be Christian music in the charts – and especially at a time when the charts are less and less important. It will be about the kind of people we are. We still – even more – need to earn the right to be heard. We all need to be ‘history makers’ by our loving involvement in the world, so that people care about what we say and sing about.
Two different blog posts today show how two different communities wrongly thought they were victims of persecution. Firstly, Michael Spencer shows convincingly that evangelicals were not killed for their faith by the two teenage gunmen at Columbine. Nor was it about video game nasties, atheism or the occult. The information has been seeping out for years, he says, but a major piece in USA Today has put it all together. Yet because many of the victims were related to local churches, a quick assumption was made. A mythology grew up, books were published, songs were recorded.
Secondly, there has been outrage in recent days over the removal of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender books from Amazon’s best-seller list. Search for #amazonfail on Twitter and you’ll find thousands of upset tweeters. But today comes the news that it wasn’t the consequence of anti-gay policies. It was a technological error. Clay Shirky, himself strongly in favour of gay rights, reports the truth in detail.
Here, then, is an issue where the evangelical community and the gay community (if both are truly communities, but that’s another issue) have something in common. Both have reasons for presupposing that opposition is persecution. Evangelicals are fuelled by church history and parts of the Bible; gay people have very recent history that predisposes them to the assumption.
To speak personally about this, I remember a few weeks after the Columbine shootings seeing a report on BBC television’s Newsnight which cast doubt on the martyrdom theory. At the time, I just assumed it was simply the BBC’s liberal bias against conservative Christians and dismissed it. I found the testimony of Cassie Bernall‘s family to her faith as a reason for her killing as more persuasive. I am not remotely suggesting they were insincere or dishonest at all, but now it seems I have to admit the BBC was right. They were modelling good reporting rather than showing bias.
Isn’t it true, though, that Christians – even in the West – are facing more opposition? Yes, it is, and I have argued frequently that our best posture for shaping our witness today is that of exile. It is a view eloquently given biblical and historical precedent in Patrick Whitworth‘s book ‘Prepare for Exile‘. However, there is a vast difference between that posture and that adopted by the wider Christian community in the wake of Columbine. Exile requires humility. It embraces the fact of being a minority in a ‘Babylonian’ culture. In contrast, according to Spencer, American evangelicals interpreted Columbine as part of the disastrous ‘culture war’. That meant taking a stance from a position of power, not of weakness. Ordinary people in society often have little sympathy for those in power.
And power seems to have been one of the mistakes in the pro-gay protests against the Amazon error, according to Shirky. Amazon is now seen as a large corporation and thus not worthy of sympathy.
Of course, it’s ironic to suggest evangelical Christians and gay people are or have been in similar positions. There is mutual suspicion, if not worse, between the groups, although Tony Blair thinks that situation is softening with younger evangelicals. It may even be the traditional Christian position on sexuality that helps send the church into exile, given recent trends in legislation. I’m thinking about laws that prevent discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and the way they have affected organisations such as Catholic adoption agencies. Not that all Christians are agreed on this matter, as we know so painfully. I still hold the traditional conviction, much as I would sometimes like to believe differently, because it would ease my tensions with today’s society. However, quite a few friends who read this blog disagree with me. That is just a microcosm of the bigger picture.
What, then, if there is opposition? One thing’s for sure: a ‘culture war’ power play is just not the way to react. Whitworth suggests new attitudes, spirituality and approaches to mission in his book that I cited above. With regard to attitudes, he cites the Beatitudes and Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon as decisive for Christians. That means humility, the acceptance of persecution and a willingness to hunker down for the long haul (contrary to certain prophecies of revival, I wonder?).
Might we have a more Christlike witness if we took this approach?
Co-Operative Funeralcare have done another survey on popular music and hymn choices at – er, funerals. Church Mouse has the chart rundowns and some commentary. This would be the excuse opportunity for me to re-run my favourite funeral music story.
About ten years ago, a woman asked to have Celine Dion’s (hideous) ‘My heart will go on’ played as we brought her mother’s coffin into the crematorium chapel. When the undertaker, pallbearers and I were ready outside the chapel doors, I gave the nod to the crematorium attendant.
The music began. It was Celine Dion. It was ‘My heart will go on.’ Only trouble was, it was the dance remix.
As drums thumped all over the melodramatic Canadian warbling, one pallbearer looked at me and said, “Do we have to take the coffin in at that tempo?”
“No,” said another, “It’s the deceased knocking, wanting to get out!”
How I remained calm and dignified to take the service, I’ll never know. It was all I could do to suppress laughter.
The next day the bereaved woman kindly phoned me to thank me for the service. I thought I ought to raise the issue of the music delicately. “Did you notice it wasn’t the normal version of the song but the dance remix?”
“I just thought I ought to mention it in case anybody was upset by what happened.”
“Oh no,” she said, “it wasn’t a problem. Besides, my mum was a bit of a goer, and she’d have loved it!”
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Third Damaris Trust video for Holy Week above. Anna Robbins explores some of the issues raised by Jesus’ teaching about the future, which he gave in the temple courts soon before his death. What does it mean that Jesus will return, and how should we live in the meantime?
Found this today, thanks to following Ruth Gledhill on Twitter: guerrilla flash-mob worship in Liverpool last Sunday. (Ruth Gledhill’s blog post on the subject is here.) Here are Christians putting into practice the principles in Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ to create a public prophetic action. Do watch the video. It’s fascinating.
So is this the way to go? Three years ago Theo Hobson wrote a piece in the Guardian in which he said that Christianity could never avoid a ritual element, but it could avoid the ritual being controlled by authoritarian hierarchies. (HT to Third Way re the Hobson article.) This will be problematic for some in my Methodist tradition, because we appoint ministers (and, occasionally, laypeople) to preside at sacraments to ensure ‘good order’. The New Testament is concerned with good order at the sacraments, as we find when Paul addresses the chaos and injustice at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). However, Paul addresses the problem via teaching rather than the instatement of authorised leaders.
And finally for something completely different. Today, I have mostly been … boiling eggs. Debbie began something in our first Spring here three years ago that has become a little tradition. An Easter party for the children. She started it in order to help our two make friends, and now Easter is not complete without it. Egg rolling competitions, egg and spoon races (including one race for mums), an egg hunt in the garden, Easter bonnet decorating – all are essential parts of a ritual which those arch-traditionalists, our children, demand.
Normally I’m out and about whenever Debbie schedules it, but this year, with the sabbatical, I was around. I had been deputed to be ready to capture the action with my camera. Although I managed some of that near the end, you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties,
and today was no exception. Debbie dropped Mark’s egg for the egg rolling competition just before our guests arrived. Others arrived, having forgotten to bring eggs, and one little girl only told Mummy half an hour before coming out that she needed an egg. I can safely say that, whatever my failings in other areas, I am a master at hard-boiling eggs. Just as well for someone whose introduction to cookery when he went away to college was a book entitled ‘How To Boil An Egg‘.
So does the church want a hard-boiled minister? Here I am. Send for me.
Final instalment from Clay Shirky today.
Chapter 11 Successful social tools have a complex interaction of promise (why), tools (how) and bargain (rules). There are various ways in which the promise can be attractive and workable. The tools must fit the job and what people want, so need not be the latest technology. The bargain may be offered initially by one side, but modified by the users.
Dilemmas often centre on whether and how much governance is put in place. Do we use contracts, for example?
Do we have a tendency in the church to jump to governance before going through the other stages?
Epilogue The new tools don’t create new motivations, they amplify existing motivations. Once people have used them in extremis, they will use them in ordinary day to day life. They are adopted one person at a time.
Activists who have tended only to protest rather than be constructive may need a form of ‘incorporation’ (embodiment) that is different from current corporate law, by allowing gatherings in the virtual world, not just face to face.
The future belongs to those who work with the present, where these changes have happened.
If this is the new and coming reality, how serious are we about adapting to it in a Gospel way?
Fourth instalment from Shirky below.
Chapter 9 The Small World principle: when two strangers meet and find they know someone in common, it’s because within each different circle there is a small number of people who are highly connected. These people are the ones who are known by the two strangers. Social networking sites work on this principle: the sharing of a common interest (amplification) on the one hand and those who don’t share the interest (filtering) on the other. Today, software such as IRC, wikis or web forums can provide bridging capital and bonding capital more easily and cheaply than institutional methods.
Which is good reason for moving from institutional approaches to the new social tools.
Chapter 10 How do we tolerate failure and use it creatively? The open source movement isn’t necessarily more successful than the commercial realm, it just has a better way of tolerating failure. Not owning the source code means lower overheads. The ‘long tail’ of the ‘power law distribution’ also means that the single contribution made by the thousands are as valuable as the many contributions made by hundreds of programmers.
Activists in the church often complain about those who seem to do little. Does the ‘long tail’ validly challenge this attitude or not?
Here is the next instalment from Clay Shirky.
Chapter 7 The key battles in protest movements are the ability to grow protests without state clampdown and documenting any opposition to cause an international outcry. That was true before the advent of contemporary social tools; now those same tools that can be used for fun can be used for political campaigning, even apparently banal tools like Twitter. They have shifted the ground from advance planning to real-time co-ordination that cannot be anticipated by opponents.
This of course is what terrorists have done, too. Hence government desires to see the electronic records of ISPs. But as the church moves more to the margins of society, this means we have just as much opportunity to influence and campaign as ever, just in very different ways.
Chapter 8 Social capital has been declining, but social tools make it possible to build it up again. Services such as Meetup.com make it possible for new groups to gather, existing groups whose transactional costs had soared can meet again, and latent groups can now set up without worrying abotu social disapproval.
Professionals lose out due to mass amateurisation. Existing social bargains (e.g., ‘who are the media?) are called into question. Networked organisations are more resilient, even the more objectionable ones.
Social capital and small groups should surely be central to church life rather than institutionalisation. Is this not a way forward, especially if we need to transition into ways naturally used by generations largely missing from traditional churches?
A few more thoughts from Shirky today.
Chapter 4 Economically, old media filtered information, and then published. Social media does the reverse: the process is now ‘publish, then filter’. And whereas one could do small things for love and big things for money, it’s now possible to do big things for love. People are no longer passive consumers, they are symmetrical producers.
‘Publish, then filter’ has enormous implications for our instinctive desire to want things we don’t like banned. How do we cope if things we don’t like are already out in the wild?
How might we ‘do big things for love’?
It’s easy to treat church members and others with whom we ministers come into contact as passive consumers. Some are happy to be treated that way (especially in a consumerist culture). But what about those who want to be symmetrical producers?
Chapter 5 Wikipedia works on the ‘publish, then filter’ principle. Hence criticism of errors, but Wikipedia is a tool (wiki) plus community, and it ‘self-heals’ on this ‘publish, then filter’ basis. It is a process, not a product. There is an unequal distribution among the contributors – a ‘power law distribution’ whre a few make a lot of contributions, and most people only make one contribution. This works, because people have a non-financial motive for contributing.
Often we complain about the ‘power law distribution’ in churches, where a small group of people do most of the work. But in the world of social media, this isn’t a bad thing. Discuss!
Chapter 6 Social tools and the Internet have made it easier for protest groups to assemble and campaign. It’s not so much about the latest technology, but about using that which has become commonplace.