The Internet and information overload — or underload
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.