As I’ve been clearing out my computer, I discovered a paper I wrote on emerging communication technologies and evangelism. Part to find a home for it and part to share it publicly, I’m posting it here.
Direct and Indirect Communication: The Growth of Immersive Media
Fred Craddock in “Overhearing the Gospel,” speaks on the two types of communication; direct and indirect. In direct communication, the sender is addressing the message specifically to the audience. The audience is meant to realize they are the object spoken to and the message is for them to apply. This approach, however, not only lacks subtlety but can incite a defensive response from the listener as he or she might feel under assault. Indirect communication offers something different. It allows for the audience to overhear the message. Overhearing is when the sender gives a relevant but indirect message that the audience will internalize. Craddock writes, “The two factors in the listener’s experience- distance (history) and participation (contemporaneity- are the two basic ingredients in the experience of overhearing (Overhearing the Gospel pg. 101).”
How audiences can participate with messages has changed with the advent of interactive media. Online multimedia and virtual reality have become platforms for audiences to overhear the message through an immersive experience. In the essay, “Immersive Media Experiences,” the authors discuss the importance of immersive media, “New paradigms for media production, distribution and consumption have been emerging, introducing different sensory modalities and audio-visual surround effects, for an increased sense of presence, and also enabling participation and social interaction in the media chain, thus increasing the sense of belonging and contributing to the success of the services being provided (Immersive).”
One application that immersive media is being used for is in therapy. OCD, autism, and PTSD are just some of the disorders virtual reality therapy is helping treat. In “Computer-Assisted and Web-based Innovation in Psychology, Special Education, and Health,” written by James Luiselli and Aaron Fischer, discusses the use of virtual reality therapy, “VRT exposes patients to virtual situations of increasing intensity and duration, seeking to provoke anxiety and then tear away that anxiety through repetition, as in a typical exposure therapy (Computer-Assisted).”
The use of indirect immersive media is being found to be an effective tool in marketing, journalism, and advocacy, as well. The ability to transport audiences to virtual representation or share in a virtual experience is a valuable communication resource. When the deadly Nepal earthquakes occurred in the Spring of 2015, there was great urgent need to respond to the damage. Traditional direct media showed the weeping masses and the fallen buildings. The images were tragic, certainly, but perhaps not powerful enough for some. RYOT, a pioneering virtual reality group of advocacy journalists, went to the devastation with 360 cameras. Coupled with narration by actress Susan Sarandon, RYOT made “The Nepal Earthquake Project.” The video gives the viewer control of where to look as they are bombarded with the sights and sounds of the disaster’s aftermath (RYOT). This kind of media gives a stronger narrative and appeal as audiences discover the scope of the story and internalize the message. The experience crafts a deeper participation.
Where direct and indirect communication will retain their uses, indirect messages overheard through immersive media is giving the informers, the persuaders, and the entertainers new platforms. While still in its infancy, virtual reality and other immersive media are becoming more accessible and adopted at exponential rates. It is foreseeable, in the near future, that this will become the norm for media consumption as communicators embrace the media.
For all outcries of technology’s pervasiveness being unnatural, there is nothing quite so human and natural as man’s creations. Where Scripture says mankind is made in the image of the Creator God, humanity reflects this in its prowess with innovation. However, this becomes a flaw where technology is used not to enhance but replace the natural.
As the world has advanced technologically, culture has also shifted from pre-modern faith to modern idolatry of man’s knowledge to post-modern skepticism towards truth. Post-modernism would reject an idea of absolute truth. While everyone is bound by the same facts, “truth” is an interpretation. This also becomes a flaw when everyone’s truth becomes acceptable and correct.
A world of technology surrogating fulfillment and skepticism of messages called truth can seemingly be a challenge to the evangelist. It creates a culture where revelation is diminished or non-existent. Even for the Christian, post-modern technology allows us to experience a cherry picked Bible with a tailor made concept of God and His Church. This grand struggle is not new, though. God’s call to return from sin and accept Him as Savior and Lord has persisted through time, regardless of the zeitgeist. Similarly, Christians have had the same model of communication throughout history. Evangelism must be rooted in relationships.
The Great Commission commands Christ followers to go and make disciples. It is not a passive suggestion but a clear call to the front-lines. While the Gospel is potent on its own, Christians are described in organic terms of bearing fruit and being a body. Called to Christ-likeness, the message pierces through the self-absorption of technology and skepticism of subjectivity by coming alive through the obedient Christian. In “Communicating for Life” by Quentin Schultze, he writes of the authority of the message when genuine, “Person and message should be united so that what we say is a product of who we are and what we believe, not just a reflection of our eloquence (Communicating).”
Relationships are the basis of all the evangelism in the Gospel. While technology did not allow for broad seed sowing at the time of Christ, mass media has never been as effective in persuasion as the tangible. Frederick Buechner writes in “Telling the Truth,” how empathy is necessary in evangelism, “But to preach the Gospel is not just to tell the truth but to tell the truth in love, and to tell the truth in love means to tell it with concern not only for the truth being told but with concern also for the people it is being told to (Telling).” Love from sender to receiver must be understood for a message to take root. This is not to reject technology or different-minded individuals as conditional to Gospel-sharing but to state the essential need for love. Is this not the reason technology fills personal voids and post-modernism used as a crutch, to deny man’s tragic status as fallen short of God’s glory?
As the world rejects the need of a Savior and Lord, Christians must not only communicate but display the message of a life lived victoriously in Jesus. James Smith addresses a post-modern Church in his book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism.” Smith relates to the command for followers of Christ to be like a city on a hill, “Nothing is more countercultural than a community serving the Suffering Servant in a world devoted to consumption and violence (Who’s Afraid).” Whatever platform the message is delivered from and whichever ideology it is delivered to, the Gospel must be shared in Christ-like selflessness and unconditional love.