It’s funny how you can go to the same conference year after year and have such differing experiences. Well in this case actually it was only twice as circumstance had conspired against me in the past but I was very pleased to be at CNMAC14 this year in my second visit to the conference. The Christian New Media Awards & Conference run by Premier (which BTW seems to be taking over the digital Christian world – anyone else noticed that?!) is all about celebrating, promoting and encouraging the use of all things digital in the Christian world. Part conference, part awards ceremony it seems to attract a wide range of people from across the breadth of the church.
The theme this year was ‘Transforming Church, Transforming Society’ a title I could have written myself as I seem to be banging on about this theme rather a lot. Although I suspect that’s more about ‘being on trend’ (hideous phrase that it is) in the church world, rather than any particular brilliance on my behalf or that of the organisers. Joking aside, it is a theme that is so important to the church right now (and I refer you to my previous post on the future of the CofE)…
This year I thought there was a much older age range of visitors to the conference which may of course be my own inaccurate observation, but I have to admit to a rather uncharitable chuckle at two older chaps in front of us struggling to take a selfie with their iPad… In all seriousness, though it is nice that it isn’t just the young hip metrosexuals who are keen on the digital age, it is essential for the whole church to embrace this ‘new’ technology, not just a few. And I use the quotes as one of the repeated phrases this year was ‘but is it new?’ What we are talking about is not really that new anymore is it, it’s becoming main stream. I mean the stats on the numbers of Facebook and Twitter users staggered even me, a seasoned Soc Med user and fan – there are literally billions! and not just that but social media is responsible for getting the real news out from places where journalists are banned, it enables charities to raise thousands of pounds with no overheads, and creates a form of communication for those who often cannot communicate. One of the best seminars I went to looked at the #ALSIceBucketChallenge and #AntiHomelessSpikes and looked at the way those hashtag ‘campaigns’ created such a stir. I was rather amused when one woman asked at the end what a hashtag was?! but again it made me think how good it is that people who don’t ‘get’ the whole digital thing, can come to somewhere like this conference and ask those questions.
I have to admit though, the above example aside, I’m not sure I made the best choice of seminars this year, which just goes to show that my Father-in-Laws old adage ‘ time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’ is one to remember at all times. In my defence, in advance I had looked at the list but then left my choices at home and arriving late at the conference I seemsed to run from one thing to another. However there were highlights of brilliance and challenge which I scribbled furiously into my journal. The seminars that perhaps were not the best choices, were not because they weren’t good, just that I felt that it was telling me stuff I already knew, perhaps for next year a guide to each talk on level of competence/difficulty or experience might be helpful for the organisers to add. But then at the same time it’s good to know that one is on the right track too.
One of the best things though this year, for me, was the networking. Pre-arranged get togethers via Twitter meant meeting up with old online friends and some new ones too, which was really lovely. I know there is an ongoing debate about whether the virtual world is ‘real’, but it was great to meet people who I know online, for real, as well as cement friendships with some I’d met before.
I think one of the things that challenged me most was Pete Philips talk (from CODEC), the title of which I have already forgotten, but gave us a glimpse into the future of the digital world. In something that resembled the kind of world that we were warned the 21st Century would be, he posed the question ‘are we already cyborgs?’ taking about the evidence for the human race being one that adapts to every environment and talking of chips under ones skin and goodness knows what else. However, somewhat freakish as it was in parts, I love a good challenge and it really made me think, I am someone who calls herself a ‘pioneer’ and wants to be at the forefront of the church trying new things, but am I really at the forefront or just feeding off other peoples ideas? It’s not good enough looking a few years ahead, we need to look decades ahead and plan for the kind of world we will be then. If we just face the challenges of now, what are we achieving? we will always be years behind! Again my memory fails me, but one of the speakers yesterday said that the church needs to be the forefront of invention/society/new things and in the past that was always the case. 300 years ago the church had oodles of money, with patrons who funded work in the arts, sciences and other areas, the newest ideas, inventions, the best artwork and sculpture was at the hands of and for the benefit of the church, well for the glory of God actually. So the thought I am left with is: Isn’t it about time we got to the fore again?