In Flickering Pixels, author Shane Hipps claims that Marshall McLuhan is one of the greatest thinkers you’ve never heard of. To the contrary, most Canadians are familiar with his iconic phrase, “The medium is the message.” Having been familiarized with many notable Canadian figures through publicly funded television shorts that ran in ad slots on national television, his maxim is quite familiar to me.
Hipps’ work is unusual for a Christian non-fiction title; exploring not the tenets of the faith, but rather how technological advancements affect our faith. As a professing internet-dependent Christian, this title offered the possibility of having my toes stomped on – a risk I took in any case.
Drawing material from his previous release (The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel and Church), Hipps has retooled his application of McLuhan’s proverb for lay audiences. Readers intrigued by this ‘media-lite’ version can look there for additional depth.
The main thrust of the title is in the examination of how changes in the presentation of information affect our minds and understanding of said information. It’s really a great premise, well written, intellectually stimulating, and at times even witty. Moving through the print age, telegraph, radio, telephone, television, Internet and other forms of communication, Hipps details how the method — the media format itself — impacts our thought processes, and ultimately how we relate to those around us, the scriptures, and God Himself.
I found it ironic that a title exploring the impact of various technological advancements from the printing press to text messaging would be littered throughout with pop culture media references to well known franchises such as Saturday Night Live. Were these examples chosen as a head-nod to the power of the popular, or does Hipps suspect that many Christians are closeted SNL fans?
Some “Magic Eye” images were included for fun as well; maybe someday I’ll be able to decipher them. In any case, Hipps is careful to mix up his carefully constructed philosophical ponderings with a splash of fun and kept me moving quickly through his brief work.
Flickering Pixels could have sported a possible alternate subtitle: Media 101 for Christians. Enough material is provided to stir the thought processes, prompt conversation, and provide a broad overview of the topic, while failing to deliver concrete suggestions and applications of the knowledge shared.
While lauding a discrete set of benefits that advances in media have provided, Hipps seems more concerned with pointing out the danger and the warning signs surrounding each technological advance and then recommending readers think about the impact these technologies have on their lives.
Maybe I’ve missed something here. Yes, I realize media changes us, and I agree with the many, valid, well-phrased explanations of such changes. The question remains, though, have Hipps exhortations to examine our media choices impacted my life significantly? I’m afraid not.
No matter how often I roll these thoughts around in my mind, I come to the same conclusions: I love being able to communicate and receive knowledge through a variety of formats while seeking to shield my family from any inappropriate uses of these tools. Perhaps it’s due to our somewhat abnormal use of media that I find little encouragement here, or the open-ended, one-sided discussion without a clear position.
Whatever the case, media buffs aside, I doubt this work will capture the imagination of the work-a-day Christian reader.