Last Thursday I had the joy of gathering with over 100 faith formation leaders and diocesan staff in the Diocese of Joliet. My presentation focused on the characteristics of the emerging digital culture and the promise and challenges it holds for the work of the Church in the 21st century.
The participants asked great questions and shared their own stories and ideas for how the Church can be both hyperlinked and human!
Daniella’s keynote has me reflecting on the work of inculturation in evangelization and catechesis — and the implications for how the church should approach the emerging digital culture. Echoing Catechesi Tradendae, the National Directory for Catechesis states that
Inculturation is a requirement for evangelization, a path toward full evangelization. It is the process by which “catechesis ‘takes flesh’ in the various cultures.
This is just as true for the digital culture as it is for Hispanic, youth, and other types of culture. While still young, the “digital continent” is already exhibiting a variety of arts, behaviors, and values that could rightly be called a unique culture. Understanding and responding to this culture will mean more than just understanding the mechanics of specific technologies.
For instance, one of the pitfalls I see many parishes falling into is trying to use digital tools without understanding their context in the digital culture. For instance, Facebook is a highly interactive medium which allows for comments and dialog between people. And yet many parishes simple use it as a broadcast medium — in effect making it an electronic bulletin — and never solicit or respond to comments from parishioners or seekers. They are using the tool but in a way out of step with the cultural value of interactivity in digital spaces. As a result their efforts fail to reach people immersed in that culture because they are speaking to a different set of cultural beliefs and practices.
As pastoral ministers continue to adopt new media technologies we must keep in mind that they are not culturally neutral. They embody and speak to specific values and beliefs that have arisen as the internet continues to grow. Discerning what technologies to adopt — and how — will be ongoing work on the digital continent and in the Church.
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Today I am giving the keynote address at the Archdicoese of Milwaukee’s Gigs, Geeks and God conference. The topic of my keynote — “The New Evangelization in a Digital Culture” — explores how the Church can adapt to the emerging internet culture and rethink parish life in light of it.
A video of the presentation will be added here early next week.
Thanks to everyone who joined me for today’s Ave Maria Press webinar “Where Two or Three are Texting: Incarnation and Sacrament in a Virtual World.” Below are my slides, notes, and links to related articles. I will post the video of the webinar here as soon as it is available.
If you have any questions that I wasn’t able to address during the session, please feel free to add them to the comments and I’ll do my best to respond with an answer!
Where Two or Three are Texting: Incarnation and Sacrament in a Virtual World
The young people in our schools and parishes are increasingly citizens of a virtual world where they carry out many traditionally “physical” activities, including living out their faith! Other Christian communities are experimenting with “online church.” What is an “online church” and is it an option for Catholics? How does the “digital continent” influence the way we prepare young people and catechumens to receive the sacraments? This webinar will explore these questions and offer some avenues for appropriate use of digital technologies in living our faith.
The webinar is co-sponsored by the National Conference for Catechetical Leaders, the National Catholic Educational Association, and the National Association for Lay Ministry. You can sign up for this free webinar at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/307966088.
This prompted a nice exchange with a few people about whether a crowdsourced project would be eligible for the USCCB’s Conformity Review process. Scanning through the conformity resources available on the USCCB web site, I don’t see anything that would disqualify such a a project from the review process.
But what would a crowdsourced catechetical project look like? How would it be accomplished?
What is Crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing is a process by which individual tasks in a larger project are divided between many participants. Individuals do small pieces of the whole so that a large project can be accomplished with a little effort on the part of lots of people.
Wikipedia is the best example of a crowdcoursed project. No individual could have written all the content contained in Wikipedia. But by allowing lots of individuals to contribute their expertise to the project, Wikipedia was able to collect and organize vast quantities of information in a relatively short amount of time — while remaining nearly as accurate as more traditional encyclopedias.
What About Catechesis?
So to go back to the original question: what would a crowdsourced catechetical project look like?
Leaving aside the question of an entire catechetical program or textbook series (which I think is possible), publishers could crowdsource supplemental materials — such as parental guides or extra activities — for a specific curriculum. A simple wiki-style web site could be set up and login credentials given to catechists, DREs, or teachers who are using the publisher’s materials. They could then collaborate by
identifying — based on their experiences using the curriculum — what supplemental materials are needed;
outlining the scope of the individual supplements;
writing the text of the supplements themselves, which could then be formatted by the publisher and posted to their web site as free PDF downloads.
With an editor assigned to oversee and guide the process by acting as a facilitator, a publisher could effectively outsource the creation of simple supplements without a huge investment in time or resources.
So are there any publishers out there willing to tackle such a project? I don’t know. But I’ll be keeping an eye out!
During my TED-style keynote at the NCCL conference last week I talked about the disruptive nature of technology — in particular how the low barriers to entry have helped to democratize access to new forms of communication. During the course of my talk I even went so far as to say that “publishing companies are becoming obsolete.”
This line generated more chatter on Twitter than anything else in my talk, with people debating the role of publishers and what exactly I meant:
@paprockij Perhaps Jonathan @sullijo means: publishers (& catechists?) not embracing “digital revolution” are “becoming obsolete.” #nccl2012
While I wish I could claim some big insight or hidden meaning, I was actually being pretty blunt: with the advent of digital publishing platforms and the rapid adaption of ebook technologies traditional publishing companies are increasingly irrelevant. When any author can write up a text and publish it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s epublishing services, what need is there for a traditional publisher? Even marketing can be handled through blogs, YouTube trailers, and other new media outlets — indeed, high-profile bloggers are increasingly turning their online reputation into platforms for launching books.
Do I think that traditional publishers don’t have a role? Of course not — but that role will have to shift. Fortunately a number of Catholic publishers are experimenting with new media in exciting ways to connect readers with content of interest to them. Loyola Press’s DRE Connect site, Ave Maria Press’s professional webinars, and National Catholic Register’s blogs are three good examples of ways in which Catholic publishers are positioning themselves in this new media world.
The common thread is moving from distributing content to becoming a destination for readers to come and establish relationships. The more publishers can make this transition, the better positioned they will be to weather the digital revolution. Or, as my friend Barb said:
@MeredithGould If anything, being a trusted Catholic publisher with good digital material is even more important these days. #nccl2012