Skype Hits the iPhone – Values are at War

“When media make war against each other, it is a case of world-views in collision.” – Neil Postman, Technopoly.
Christians need to think about the value sets and assumptions packaged in their digital technology. Sure, values sets and assumptions may be be advertised on the box, but they are clearly there. Think of the iPhone. You either own an iPhone or have a friend who does. Among the first things that an iPhone owner will show you is their ability to sync with Google maps such that they can see their location and discover local restaurants, places of interest, or even traffic conditions in their area. Cool right? Except, now somebody knows where you are. Exactly where you are – anywhere on the planet. Is that good? When did our values shift so that “big brother” was no longer threatening? Was it when “he” declared that he should “do no evil”?
Skype is now releasing an app for the iPhone. This is not the first move Skype has made to mobile platforms, Skype is on other mobile devices. However, the iPhone is different. The iPhone is where the customers are and therefore the iPhone is mainstream. Make no mistake, though its services are currently limited, Skpye’s move to the iPhone marks the end of the phone medium and the beginning of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). When calls are no longer billed in minutes or by distance (two measures of value for the phone medium), people will be tempted to proclaim “now I can talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time!” Is that good? How will that ability affect the value we place in a “call”? How will our expectations of reaching people change? Will we say that conversations become more personified when Skype takes the logical future step of adding live video to calls? How will that change in value assumptions affect our understanding of “conversing” with “people” or “conversing in-person”?
What about ministry? It is estimated that as many as 4 billion of the world’s 6 billion people will own a cell phone in the next few years. Even in impoverished countries, people are skipping the purchase of a computer and going straight to the mobile phone for their internet access. When internet accessible cell phone use is ubiquitous, will we open up massive “video calling” centers and do “missions work in-person”? After all, we are of the generation that holds “church” online.
*Related Links: Christian Web Conference – Bright People engaging Big Ideas.

The 2008 EO/Wheatstone Academy Symposium

While the current political cycle has sharpened our focus on the role of religion in the public square, we often fail to reflect on the role of the public square upon religion. Increasingly, when Christians engage others in public forums, we do so using tools that we did not develop. Whether through movies, music, or new media, we tend to start with a pre-existing cultural forms and incorporate the Gospel as best we can.
As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan argued, the tools we use to communicate a message can shape that message in ways we may or may not intend.* If this is true then Christians have a duty to critically evaluate the effect of our media choices on our message. Do our choices of media forms allow the message to remain Christian? Or are the tools with which we communicate at odds with the message of the Gospel?
In order to explore the issue in greater depth, I’ve decided to make it the topic of the 2008 EO Symposium, sponsored this year by Wheatstone Academy.
Responses to the following question will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, April 25th:

If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?

The top five posts chosen by our panel of judges (James Kushiner from Touchstone magazine’s Mere Comments, Melinda Penner from Stand to Reason, Matt Lewis from, and Matthew Anderson from Mere Orthodoxy) will receive:

(1) A full tuition scholarship for a Christian high school student of the winner’s choice to Wheatstone Academy. [A $950 value]
(2) The ‘Quintessentials’ from Stand to Reason, including the Ambassador Basic Curriculum, Tactics in Defending the Faith DVD, Decision Making and the Will of God CD set, and a signed copy of Greg Koukl’s new book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. [A $150 value]
(3) A $200 donation made to Compassion International in the name of the winning blogger.
(4) A full-tuition scholarship to the upcoming GodBlogCon (September 2008). [A $150 value]
(5) A two-year subscription to Touchstone Magazine. [A $59.95 value]
(6) A year subscription to Townhall magazine. [A $34.95 value]

The first place winner will have their choice of items with the second place deciding between the remaining four items, etc. The sixth place winner will will automatically receive the unselected item.
Those who choose only to write a brief comment promoting the Symposium are still eligible to receive a prize for participating. Anyone who includes a link to this post and a brief comment will be entered into a separate drawing for one of three copies of The New Media Frontier, forthcoming from Crossway Books.
To include your post in the symposium, send the following information to

  • Name
  • Name and URL of blog or website
  • Title and URL of post
  • Brief summary

Finally, I am grateful to those sponsors who have generously given time and money to make this year’s Symposium a reality, especially Wheatstone Academy, a discussion-based summer conference that seeks to instill a love of learning and dialogue in Christian high school students.

* For more background on McLuhan and his theory, read Mark Federman’s excellent introductory article.