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The Internet and information overload — or underload

7 June 2010

I missed it.

In the back of my mind I was aware that there was going to be an Edinburgh 2010 conference to mark the centenary of the Edinburgh 1910 conference on world mission. I asked on a missiological mailing list if anyone was planning to go to it, and discovered that it was over. It finished yesterday.

This year the world church celebrates the centenary of the World Missionary Conference, held in Edinburgh in 1910. Christians from all over the world join in unity and explore different ways of Witnessing to Christ Today.

From 2-6 June a centenary conference is taking place in Edinburgh, UK. Parallel to this conference a plethora of workshops, events and services are being organised by local churches and organisations. Follow the conference online, discuss and study crucial mission topics, or set up you own event commemorating the centenary.

There is this electronic missiological forum, but somehow no one bothered to mention that they were going to the centenary conference. And if anyone did go to it, they haven’t said what happened there.

Now I’m also vaguely aware that there’s going to be another gathering in Cape Town some time in August, to commemorate a similar gathering in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, and people have been asked to Twitter about it, but when I searched for “Lausanne” on Twitter, nothing relevant cropped up. And Twittering is not much use unless the tweets give a link to more substantial information. Half the tweets I see are meaningless, because there is no context, and no link to any context.

We’ve had electronic data communications for more than 20 years now, and yet we still don’t seem to be able to use them to enhance face to face meetings, and to prepare for them and follow them up.

One reason for that is that everything is so fragmented.

Twenty years ago we used Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) to communicate. A BBS was a computer connected to a hpone line so that anyone could call in and leave messages and read and reply to them. BBSs were networked throughout the world, using a “store and forward” system — one BBS would phone another and exchange messages. There were “conferences” dealing with various topics, including one on “mission” and another on “missiology”. The “missiology” forum I referred to above is the heir of that.

But the problem then was fragmentation. Each person who started a BBS wanted to start their own network as well, so soon you had ten networks, each with a “mission” conference, and so the people on Network A lost contact with the people on Network B. And so we were no better off than we were when we had to communicate by snail mail and fax and telex.

And nowadays the same thing happens with social networks. This one is on MySpace, that one on Facebook, and whereas 20 years ago they were all starting new BBS conferences and networks, now they are starting new Facebook groups. So perhaps somewhere, buried in the depths of Facebook, there is an Edinburgh group and a Lausanne group (and possibly more than one of each, none of which is aware of the existence of any of the opthers). And eventually one is so overwhelmed by invitations to join groups that one moves to Linked-in, and the whole thing starts all over again there.

And so I get e-mail messages telling me that someone has left me a message on Linked-in, of Facebook, or somewhere else, and I think, oh yes, when I finish reading and replying to my e-mail I must go and look at it, but by the time I’ve finsihed reading and replying to e-mail I’ve forgotten whether it was Linked-in or Facebook or MySpace or whereever that someone had left me a message, and I’ve forgotten who it is. And I think why can’t they send me an e-mail direct, instead of getting an e-mail to say that there is a message?

And so I missed the centenary conference in Edinburgh.

And the same thing will probably happen with the Lausanne continuation conference, because of information overload and underload. Will someone who knows something about it please come and say something on the missiological forums, instead of starting yet another Facebook group. Please.

Yes, I know one can sign up to receive updates, but that is “one to many” communication, and is just another part of the information overload. I’m not going to be able to get there, but it would be good to discuss some of the issues that will be discussed there with people who are going. And web-based forums are not the best medium for that.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 June 2010 10:57 am

    I think the problem is more likely to do with people: the kind of people invited to things like Lausanne are not the kind of people who use Yahoo Groups and Twitter to talk about them. These are depressingly closed-access conferences. Lausanne is currently going through the motions of to try appear more open-access by soliciting comments on blog posts about the missiological content, but these comments don’t feed into the discussion process at all – it’s a write-only medium.

    You can follow it online – but it won’t be following you.

    • 7 June 2010 7:40 pm

      You can follow it online – but it won’t be following you.

      Yes, that sums it up pretty well!

    • 9 June 2010 9:36 pm

      Hi Simon,

      Please take a look at Lausanne’s twitter feed @CapeTown2010 – if you’re on twitter please let me know your username and we’ll be SURE to follow you.

      Rich blessing,


      • 11 June 2010 7:16 am


        I think Twitter is far too diffuse a medium for that. I might Tweet about all kinds of things, most of them not relevant to Lausanne, and what you can say in 140 characters usially contains too little information to be useful.

        I follow some people on Twitter, and half the time I have no idea what they are talking about. I find tweets are most useful if someone has blogged about something, and it points to a blog post where people have said something in greater depth.

        And see the link to Richard Fairheads blog post below — important reading for those interested in communication!

  2. Richard Fairhead permalink
    8 June 2010 12:43 am

    OK, so your post prompted me to post to one of my blogs a paper I had been circulating as a paper (not hot-lead type, but laser printed so it looked like hot lead!)

    • 11 June 2010 7:18 am

      Thanks for that link, Richard. I think it’s importand reading, and too many people have put too many eggs in the Twitter basket.

  3. 9 June 2010 9:34 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your post – indeed, the Edinburgh 2010 conference was not shared broadly enough on the web! It is an opportunity that was missed – however, I am certain that the outcome of the conference will give some food for thought.

    I know of two persons who were there (Lerefolo Mokgothu (the daughter of Sidwell Mokgothu whom you may know from Pretoria) and our own Daryl Balia (the Methodist minister who now teaches at Edinburgh). I had contact with Lerefolo before and just after the conference.

    I have an inkling, however, that published articles and conference papers are not the ‘way of the new world’ – rather people long to participate and engage around issues, making contributions rather than just listening to the contributions of others (usually ‘experts’ rather than practitioners).

    Lausanne is trying hard to have a ‘web presence’, and more importantly to create engagement around the issues of evangelism. (in fact I sent you an email to ask for your help – to your gmail address – I hope you got the email!).

    Lausanne can be found in the following places:

    Lausanne Web page:
    Lausanne Blog:
    Lausanne Facebook Page: Lausanne Movement We have 2800 persons on this page.
    Lausanne Twitter Page: @CapeTown2010 And if you follow us, we will follow you back!
    Lausanne Social Networking platform (the Lausanne Conversation): Global Conversation
    Lausanne articles and papers (called the Lausanne World Pulse): Lausanne World Pulse

    You may be interested in the article that I wrote on social networking, new media, technology and evangelism.

    The intention of our social networking efforts are to create connections and conversations around what it means to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world. The Global Conversation site has tens of thousands of persons of various Churches, theological backgrounds and geographic regions discussing, debating and acting up the contextual implementation of establishing God’s Kingdom.

    • 11 June 2010 6:56 am

      I’ve joined one of the Lausanne web sites (I can’t be sure which one without going to look), but my point is that a “web presence” is not enough. Edinburgh had a web presence, but people need to be aware of it and need to be motivated to go and look, and a missiological mailing list is one of the places where one would expect to see discussion about that — discussing what is on the web site, what they expect to see there and so on.

      Now I’ve been a member of the Lausanne Research mailing list for several years, and there has been not a peep about the Cape Town gathering. In fact there had been hardly anything there this year. Not even someone saying “I’m planning to go, will I see you there?”

      It’s really a question of which medium is best for which purpose. The Web is, after all, a passive medium. It’s putting something there and hoping people will come to it.

      It’s one of the things I’ve noticed about mailing lists hosted by Yahoogroups. It is possible for people to join them as “web only” so it becomes a bit like a Facebook group. And those people rarely participate actively because they have to make the effort to go to the web site to read the messages and then post something, and they forget. Of course the spammers love to do that — they join a group “web-only” because they want to do drive- by posting — they are not interested in reading any

      So if the Lausanne organisers really want a better response and to make a bigger impact than Edinburgh, they need to use other media, like mailing lists and newsgroups. And though that may mean starting a Lausanne mailing list (or even utilising the existing one!), it is even more important that they get on to the more general mission and missiological ones and start people thinking about the issues.

      Newsgroups are mostly inhabited by kooks and fanatics these days, but I’m sure the few sane people left will also welcome something with substance, like the Lausanne thing, and it might stir up more interest, and improve the signal/noise ratio in newsgroups.

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