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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gutenberger or Googler?

Are you a Gutenberger, or a Googler?

In case you haven't heard those terms before, don't worry.  Neither had I, until I read them in a review of a new book by Len Sweet, who's on the faculty of Drew University Divinity School here in New Jersey. The book is called  Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival.

I'm a Gutenberger, because I was born prior to 1973.  Quite a bit before 1973, if the truth be told.

That means I tend to think in terms of printed words on the page.  It's how the church - and society at large - has been communicating, ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type for printing presses sometime around 1439.

My kids, though, are Googlers.  They've grown up with personal computers, and more recently with smartphones, which are really handheld computers.  Today's smartphones pack more computing capacity than the computer on board the lunar module Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.

Back when I was in high school, a transistor radio with a single earbud was the cool tech item.  If you were lucky, it might even pull in the FM stations, but no stereo sound.

Today - for those who can afford it - it's the new Apple iPad.  We used to watch Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek using something like those, but never dreamed we'd see it in our time.

To us Gutenbergers, "text" means something solid, tangible, relatively unchangeable.  Like the Bible open on the pulpit.

To Googlers, "text" is a verb.

When I see teenagers staring into smartphones, with those little wires coming out of their ears, I realize they're doing more than simply processing data.  They're connected, wirelessly, to a web of similarly-connected individuals all around the world.  That's a change every bit as big as that brought in by Gutenberg's movable type, and it's happened in the blink of an eye.

If Len Sweet is right, the question of what technology we've grown up with is more than significant for the church, because it affects our entire way of looking at the world.  Those born after 1973 are digital natives.  They've never known anything different.  The rest of us are at best digital immigrants. Like the first-generation immigrants who came to this land from overseas, we're forever playing catch-up with our progeny.

Here are some of the distinctions he identifies between Gutenbergers and Googlers:

Gutenbergers: It's necessary to be right.
Googlers: It's necessary to be in relationship.

Gutenbergers: God is in charge.
Googlers: God chose to be among us.

Gutenbergers: Capital campaign.
Googlers: Homeless campaign

Gutenbergers: Statement of faith.
Googlers: Life of faith.

Gutenbergers: Build something.
Googlers: Meet someone.

Gutenbergers: A culture of words and individualism that has lost its ability to propagate.
Googlers: A culture of images and relationships that breed virality, the petri dish of revival.

Centuries ago, the Apostle Paul rode merchant ships crisscrossing the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, made newly safe by the order imposed by the Caesars.  Christianity rode that new technology to an explosion of growth.  A millennium and a half later, Luther and Calvin made use of Gutenberg's press to get God's word - newly translated out of the original languages and Latin - into the hands of ordinary people.

Are we on the verge of a change just as epoch-making?  I think we are, and it's already begun.  It's also coming at us with breakneck speed.

If the church is to continue to be the church, we need to figure out how to be a church of both Gutenbergers and Googlers. All other issues we’re now struggling with – including the interminable debates about sexual ethics – are as nothing compared to this mega-issue.

We’d best get over those comparatively minor debates, and get on with it.

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