Sunday, February 29, 2004
Internet and Missions

We had a meeting of the IT | Church | Culture group yesterday. The theme was Internet and Missions and we had three local mission leaders speaking.

I'd planned to use the cricket as an excuse if we had poor numbers - arrange a meeting and you always feel guilty if people don't turn up... The cricket was rained off, part of our new winter-in-summer policy, so I used the rain as excuse instead - aren't we humans adaptable ;)

The talk was fascinating. For me it highlighted the Maori answer to the question about what is most important "he tangata, he tangata, he tangata" - it's people, people, people!

One common concern was security, mission agencies often have contact with Christians in difficult places, sometimes governments or terrorist organisations would like to stop them, even kill them.

A mission director wary of giving away too much info in the "wrong" places encodes his emails to some contacts with PGP, but he is glad that he can take a copy of his orgasnisation's database with him on his laptop when he travels!
The issues this raises are of several sorts:

technological: how secure can you make this information or this network?

human: how might the director change his habits?

cultural: "information tends to be free" is not merely an economic truth!

But there are also theological issues:
How far can it be Christian to hold back the truth?

What does it mean to be human in a world were technology is reinforcing the truth of the claim that "information tends to be free"?

In some ways the technology changes everything, in others it changes nothing. It's people, stupid!

Saturday, February 21, 2004
Blogsphere : Print : Webworld

I'm "guest editing" an issue of Stimulus around the (very broad) theme of the interfaces between IT : Church : Culture. I get to solicit articles from interesting people and hopefully put together some worthwhile dialogue and provide an update for the readers.

[Stimulus is a quasi-popular, quasi-academic journal published in NZ it calls itself "the NZ Journal of Christian Thought and Practice" it is now in its 12th year.]

This process prompts reflection on the similarities and differences of print (Stimulus - so print-bound that its web site consists of a mailto link), the web (incarnated in the Amos commentary) and the blogsphere (which seems - to a neophyte - to be the term in vogue).

The journal edition will be full of people I network with,
  • Some I meet primarily face-to-face (colleagues, friends etc.) - let's simplify and call these the print people.

  • Others I've met through the commentary - the "web people".

  • Some I've met through the blogsphere - Bloggers.

(Actually, of course, the real people concerned are each and all mixtures of the two or all three of these - Steve Taylor is a prime example, met first as a (physical) colleague and friend we've communicated by website and email for years, but more recently he introduced me to blogging [see below - Does anyone know how to do internal links in blogger without hacking the source code for the "a name" tag?]. But for the sake of clarity let's abstract the real people into types.

The web came as a liberation for me, I put up material, people read it, and some of them emailed me and we entered a discussion, or I taught them or they taught me or helped me... Writing ceased to be the lonely pursuit it had been in print.

BUT in preparing the commentary I quickly discovered that it is difficult (because it works against the grain of the medium) to develop an argument in a hypertext. The commentary has developed into something almost anyone interested in the Bible can read: one month Southern Baptists and Brazilian Catholics were studying Amos, another time it was an Orthodox Jew and a Messianic Jew who wrote to me the same day...

Text (typified by the print medium) by contrast discourages interaction, but permits (even demands?) a coherent argument, step-by-step to a conclusion.

So, what about the blogsphere, is it different from the web world or just a small adaptation?

Like the web: a blog is a hypertext, like the web: a blog invites and makes easy comment and contact between reader and author.

YET in the blogsphere things are more ephemeral and faster. Material I wrote for the Amos commentary in 1995 still attracts readers and still stimulates comment and interaction. Maggi's piece Tuesday, February 17, 2004 on these topics seems unusual in the blogsphere in that after 4 days and 27 comments it seems the party is still running and we're not yet washing up [thanks Jen for that metaphor].

In the last 24 hours I've made three new virtual friends. [I don't know a better term for people one is beginning to know and value but whom one has not met in the flesh.]

Two from the blogsphere will probably write articles for Stimulus, speed and community. The other from webworld is more like a print person, he's provided a useful and valuable correction, spotted and pointed out [most people keep their critiques like misers to themselves] a small error in my reading of the Hebrew.

I think I'm sold on blogging....

Thursday, February 19, 2004
Steve Taylor just emailed me to point out the discussion on hypertext that's been going on round Maggi Dawn's blog. Actually the discussion all started from the question of whether writing for a blog was a different form of writing...

The early conversation centred round the question of style, is a blog like or unlike e.g. a letter... Personally it seems to me that it is quite like a letter - except that one does not know the recipient; quite like a diary - except one knows that it might be public!

EXCEPT that the addition of features of electronic hypertext make it totally different:
  1. links make text plurisequential with a quasi-sequential text like print the author can assume the reader will follow a particular sequence; with a plurisequential hypertext authors cannot know the sequence the reader will follow but can imagine and create possible sequences for her

  2. user input makes text conversation even in the slow form of email comments about the Amos commentary users have impacted the text, but through the comments feature of a blog users not only join conversation with the author, but can hijack that conversation and direct it!

Whatever a blog is, it is not writing as we knew it a generation ago! Nor is any other hypertext.

PS, if anyone is really interested in these topics (enough to read page upon page of turgid academic prose) I've a couple of papers one online (though sadly for sale) an article "Form, Medium and Function: The Rhetorics and Poetics of Text and Hypertext in Humanities Publishing" in International Journal of the Book, Volume 1, 2003 the other only in print "Commentary beyond the Codex: Hypertext and the art of biblical commentary" in Cook, Johann (ed) Bible and Computer: The Stellenbosch AIBI-6 Conference. Proceedings of the Association Internationale Bible et Informatique, Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The view from our window!

To celebrate ten years at Carey the college gives its staff a weekend away. Barbara and I just enjoyed a lovely Waitangi weekend on Lake Okataina near Rotorua. As you can see from the photo the lodge is superbly situated. The lake is quiet, with only the lodge and an outdoor education centre 1km or so up the road, with many great bush walks nearby.

After a busy and stressful period the peace, quiet and exercise were just what we needed. I was about to write "gentle exercise", except that on Saturday we decided to head up to the Whakapoungakau Trig point, at 756m above sea level, it did give the promised "magnificent views over the surrounding lakes". However, since we are less fit than we'd like the 2 hour ascent (very steep for about half the distance) left us puffing!

On Sunday we took it easy, a couple of gentle strolls, from the .excellent walks in the area. One led to some attractive bush clad waterfalls.

Monday, February 02, 2004
Well, I've now done Friday evening's three chapters. No sweat! In fact the book is extremely easy to use. And that's my first gripe, it's TOO easy to use, explains everything: even telling you that you need to save the exercise files somewhere that you can find them again. Duh! I'd have thought that people wanting to "Get up to speed on XML" hardly need that explained to them - or if some do they hardly need the suggestion to use a sub-directory of 'My Documents' if they are using MS Windows.

However, that said, I think I learned a bit and I learned it painlessly. So anyone who wants to know something about XML: watch this space, maybe 'Saturday' will be more taxing and more rewarding!

Sunday, February 01, 2004
You see I've been "on the net" for a while now, the websites get traffic and I get mail. This feedback on what one writes is a big part of the buzz I get from publishing on the web.

But I keep hearing about blogs and indeed I keep stumbling across them, and even more since Steve got bitten by the blog-bug he's kept trying to persuade me - well OK probably he has not really been doing an evangelistic job on me, just describing the joy of blogging [Is this what the Friendship Evangelism people are on about? - I could not resist that link because it talks about the "missile principle"!] but it has felt like evangelism.

However, I feel left out that I don't understand blogging, and I need to create some community momentum round the project - what better way than a blog?

So during this sabbatical I'm going to set up, and try out, two blogs. This one: where I'll rabbit on about anything that takes my fancy, and learn the technology of blog. AND another where I'll discuss the project, that one is not yet live - I'll let you know...

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