Back when I was doing a degree, one of my tutors would give me a few of the scholastic media study journals that did the rounds twenty years ago. I’d flick through them and try to have a good question for him. Something about mise-en-scene or how the production costs of lighting lamps were falling with the coming age of digital luminosity.
‘What is the point of these?’ was what I went for finally, handing them back. It turned out to be one of the best questions that I have ever asked about anything, and a point-blank lesson in media studies.
‘Good question,’ my tutor said, as if that wasn’t obvious. There was perhaps even a real tension in the room. His office, third floor. Ipswich. Just so we are clear.
‘I suppose the point really is, John, that there are always articles written to fill the journal. It helps if they are interesting, but there is an obligation to fill one hundred pages.’
‘So having content is more important than the content itself.’
‘There are obligations. But sometimes the articles can be good.’
Twenty years later I am faced with similar questions about Orthodoxy and the internet. I’ll do my best to try and explain myself.
For three years of my Christian life, I moved in local reformed circles and there was always a stock-the-brazier, Scargillian quality to the movement that somehow suited the quick-fire nature of the internet. A hyper involvement. Born of some part-Beatlemania, part Union-decree of common cause against the world. Back some-way further when I was reading about them, the Gnostics pretty much had the same thing going on. It is unfortunate, although I do see the greater disparities between the parties. But the gnostics would have loved the internet. All that superior non-physicality and Wi-Fi. Chuck another log on the burner and press download on the Zen App.
It’s just not the same thing as being at an actual Church, which I am forced to say as someone who burns through Lord of Spirits podcasts like it was a candle that I was afraid was about to be snuffed out. When I first encountered Lord of Spirits, before I had even stepped inside an Orthodox space by a handful of days, I thought, Yes!, people who have a sound mind about things. I am pretty picky about those things though, particularly as once encountering church space I was at once confronted with something that was The Space that I needed. Both the inner and the outer doors. The two meet in this space in specific ways that do things which only this approach does. I don’t understand it, but I am under a privilege to confront myself beneath it. As best I can.
But you cannot replicate that space, the physical connection of a thing, within the ongoing echoes of the internet. I believe that you can more closely with the reformed ideal of communication as something flat, but which nonetheless changes over time as new things are added or found, because of whatever…
Something unchanging is strange, and the internet is ever-changing because new things must be added, or else there will be no change. And there are obligations. Content. Words and spoken words, they must be given for there is no other way to feed The Algorithm. And The Algorithm is always hungry. It swells with need and gives for opinion. I am far from above it, so far in fact that I am writing content at this moment, just to feed our website and keep us in algorithmic grace. It is perhaps a mucky job and certainly not the first mucky job which has come my way.
Best make that content something glorifying then. No pressure.
So, before I go on too long I would suggest that Cyber Space is that. It is very good at being it. But the church is The Space. Holistic. Leaving nothing out as everything is gathered up within. Plugged into the local Space. Turned On, Tuned In and Without a Doubt.