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Thursday, 14 April 2011

religion and the internet conference

i attended  this RSA/tony blair faith foundation/durham university event in london today. many thanks to them for organising a thought provoking event, - generally a no. of speakers mentioned the need for better robust research to test the arguments being put forward on this subject.

other summary and reflections on the day and the subject
pmphilips  - director of research, CODEC
twitter  - search for the hashtag #faith2point0
RSA - material is here
digitalnun - reflections on the day
boldcreative's - report on the conference is here
the guardian newspaper - has an article on this issue
tallskinnykiwi - has a summary
vitually islamic  - round up
sara batts - summary
dr john sentamu - on should christians use the internet
krish kandiah - 10 questions for exploring the implications of social media
a post on experimental theology muses on the spirituality of iphones, mobile computing and web2 generally
a post by marika rose on religious-ness of our relationship to technology
davidhousholder's post on open source church
a post from me - on reflections from a how human are robots rsa lecture
vatican bloggers conference - from blue eyed ennis' view

my attempt @ a summary from my perspective and my partial notes is below ......

identity - points made
– several speakers touched on whether there are differences (i think at least 2 speakers actually saw very close similarities) between our online and offline identities in terms of the words we use, the groups we join, and whether we only interact with those similar to ourselves.
- one speaker pointed out that many of us have multiple online identities    (different email/bank/website accounts) “i am many things but they are all me”. perhaps these can be seen as “cultural expressions of me”. 

even after death our online identity remains – dorian grey like.
- on the internet the individual tends to be at the centre, not the group or organisation hierarchy.
- what is done online was seen to impact offline identity and vice-versa. a story was told of the impact of one partner bringing their mobile device into their and their partners bedroom.
- is it right to remain anonymous (or pseudonymous taking a churchmouse tweet) or should we link our other identities to the real us?
- anonymity is an advantage in certain almost confessional online interfaces.
- individual’s values are what drives people’s behaviours – often learnt in communities.

characteristics of the internet medium  - points made
– it has the power we give it.
- non verbal signals are not present.
- the internet was seen to focus voices and amplify the extreme.
- public discussions can sanitize what is said (point from q&a).
- sites do seek to maximise their search ranking – so high ranking is an indicator of their success at that – not trustworthiness.
 - in the Q&A somebody made a point that commercially motivated organisations provide the tools we use on the internet and so their focus is on monetising our usage in some manner, which affects the medium and interface.
- it has the characteristics of a space (how enter, access, where allowed, public, private, what is the norm, what is allowed etc. etc.).
- much of what is put online remains online as a record. 
- people say things online they would not do face to face. 
- an e.g. was given of younger people @ a restaurant physically together but all interacting with their internet networks via phones.
- internet heightens reflexivity and generally acts as a catalyst or accelerator.
- whilst its inherent individualism and globilisation perspectives subtly alter those who use it (the e.g. of diaspora was used).
-. there was also discussion about whether our typically linear way of thinking could utilise the internet’s lateral capabilities.
- information is not knowledge or faith yet often those who google research think they have understanding without having done any solid homework.
- websites have 15 seconds to catch our attention.
- an example of the use of avatars in a virtual world was given, where interfaces between avatars had the advantage of recorded conversation (so misunderstandings could be corrected factually) plus no chance of physical violence.
- the individualism focus can lead to an inward ghetto focus for groups,
- it is easy to stereotype certain groups.  an e.g. of this was how the last session on extremism panned out - limited time and the subject guidance given to speakers plus no muslim panelist due to sickness led to a lack of nuance and breadth in the characterisation of islam presented  - plus no extremism examples from other faiths – this was not what was intended by the presenters, but it plainly managed to offend a number of people in the audience (my observation – how similar is this shortness of time in both presenting messages and considering them a characteristic also of internet interactions?)
community, group and authority  - points made
- internet doesn’t create communities – people do.
 - faith has become more influential (not less as predicted in 70’s/80’s).
- is internet a community destroyer or just networked individualism?
- the individualism focus of the internet can lead to an inward facing self conversational focus for groups.
- the internet has a flattening effect on hierarchies (the e.g. was given of patients self diagnosing via google and then inputting that to their conversation with their medical dr.) 
- in the usa mega churches use virtual mortar to joins multi site congregations.
- there were also several conversations of how younger people’s multi-tasking was seen as lack of attention/respect by those older (my observation – maybe the parents of those born in the 60's would say their children could multi-task - watch tv and chat - so maybe teenagers today just have a more advanced version of that ability learnt through their childhood interactions?).
– in many religions authority is with those in positions of power and knowledge with resources (so typically religions have used expensive buildings as part of their identity). 
- the internet allows faith groups to form without them needing as much power, knowledge or resources as doing such in the offline world needs.
- it also allows individuals to more easily challenge, question and push at the boundaries that their particular faith group might have – or to re-align with those within such faith groups who share such challenges.
- cohesion doesn’t mean sameness.
 - the stereotypical presentation of faith groups may contain some truths – but what we share is our common humanity (under god for monotheistic religions).
- different levels of closeness exist in an cloistered community dependent on commitment levels (from novice upwards) and replicating such in the level of internet access given to such communities was given as an e.g.
- the internet can be used to capture and curate tradition and older community members wisdom.
- an e.g. was given of london’s east end community cohesiveness coming from the fact that the area’s multi-faith communities mean many people are members of a faith group and so used to belonging to something.
- the virtual is better than nothing at all for those alone.
- real community and god can’t be escaped – unlike the virtual world.

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