On Form(ats) vs Content | The Medium is not (quite) the Message | Analogue and Digital Faith

ReeltoreelI had a snoop around the sale items in a department store the other day. A guy in an ill-fitting suit bee-lined me and was desperate to show me the new hard-drive recorders they had in. Tempting, but the prices are crashing and the capacities are inflating, so we’ll hold for a while yet.

One machine intrigued me: a VHS / DVD / Hard-drive player in one. We’ve clearly got format-change overload here. I’m only surprised it didn’t have Blue-Ray and Laserdisc capability too. It played CDs too… if it had only had cassette and vinyl… 😉

No doubt I’ll switch soon. There are those who are always early adopters, but most of us continue to live ‘within’ a format while new ones become properly established…

As we do so, developers are always keen to push the envelope of that particular format. The rise of interactive DVD games / videos for kids is a good example. It simply couldn’t be done on tape.

There comes a time though, when the envelope reaches its limits; when what we really want to do with the content just doesn’t fit the format we’re working with. So we take the plunge. We digitize our vinyl. We rip our CDs. We put the 35mm camera away for the last time. We put the VHSs in the loft.

It’s usually a painful and slow process. Some data usually doesn’t make it in the transfer. Other things suddenly look much better. Now I can easily digitize and manipulate them, Super 8 cine film has got a new lease of life.

Everything we do has some kind of ‘format’, and church is no exception. Traditional Sunday service? The envelope has been pushed to the limit. The format is just not suitable for the way we want to interact with the content. I’m done with it. I’ve switched.

The first switch was the hardest. The first time you go from analogue to digital I think it always is. Vaux was a pretty niche format, infinite wow and flutter, but not robust. It had to go too. And some data has inevitably been lost. Much, however, has been regained. A digital faith allows you to scan quickly and re-discover some long-forgotten material. It’s been good to have a break between formats. Stops you getting straight back in the rut you just left. We’re slowly evolving something new post-Vaux.

And here’s where I burn my Emerging Church credentials, stick my neck out and disagree with Marshall Mcluhan: I don’t think the medium is the message. (Though I do agree with Jonny and Ryan that church practices are accomodations to a society that no longer exists) The medium, the format, allows certain aspects of the message to be enhanced, but the message underlying these formats remains the analogue truth that no ear can fully hear and no eye can fully see. Even in HD.

Our dark glasses and mufflers will remain for now. And while they do it is imperative on us to keep pushing the envelope of whatever format we are living within, and having the courage to jump to new ones when we know the limit is reached.


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