So we’ve been asked to write a “synchroblog” organized by Quaker Voluntary Service. It is a weekday and there are work deadlines looming for me (there are always deadlines looming) so my participation may be spotty but I’ll give it a shot.
The topic of this particular synchroblog is Friends and social media and in the invite we were asked to riff on comparisons with early Friends’s pamphleteering and the web as the new printing press. I’m spotty on the details of the various pamphlet wars of early Friends but the web-as-printing-press is a familiar theme.
I first mangled the metaphors of web as printing press nineteen years ago. That summer I started my first new media project to get pacifist writings online. The metaphors I used seem as funny now as they were awkward then, but give me a break: Mark Zuckerberg was a fifth grader hacking Ataris and even the word “weblog” was a couple of years away. I described my project as “web typesetting for the movement by the movement” and one of my selling points is that I had done the same work in the print world.
Fractured as my metaphors were, online media was more like publishing then that it is now. Putting an essay online required technical skills and comparatively high equipment costs. The consistent arc of consumer technology has been to make posting ever easier and cheaper and that has moved the bar of quality (raised or lowered depending on how you see it)
Back in the mid-1990s I remember joking snarkily with friends that we’d all someday have blogs devoted to pictures of our cats and kids – the humor in our barbs came from the ridiculousness that someone would go to the time and expense to build a site so ephemeral and non-serious. You’d have to take a picture, develop the film, digitally scan it in, touch it up with a prohibitively expensive image software, use an FTP program to upload it to a web server and then write raw HTML to make a web page of it. But the joke was on us. In 2014, if my 2yo daughter puts something goofy on her head, I pull out the always-with-me phone, snap a picture, add a funny caption and filter, tag it, and send it to a page which is effectively a photoblog of her life.
The ease of posting has spawned an internet culture that’s creatively bizarre and wonderful. With the changes the printing press metaphor has become less useful, or at least more constrained. There are Friends who’s intentionality and effort make them internet publishers (I myself work for Friends Journal). But most of our online activity is more like water cooler chitchat.
So the question I have is this: are there ways Friends should behave online. If we are to “let our lives preach,” as the much-quoted George Fox snippet says, what’s our online style? Do we have anything to learn from earlier times of pamphleteering? And what about the media we’re using, especially as we learn more about electronic surveillance and its widespread use both here at home and in totalitarian regimes?