Synod goes Web 2.0

One of the remarkable things at General Synod yesterday was the amount of internet activity going on. In particular, I was intrigued how during the day there was an amazing amount of social networking going on which was operating entirely independent of any attempt by Church House to control the electronic media.

Web 2.0 is the name given to new developments in internet software and culture, focussed on interactivity. Roughly put, whenever I write a blog post I’m operating in a Web 1.0 kinda way, but the fact that you can comment and we can interact through that makes this blog kinda Web 2.0. In particular, modern tools for social networking are really, really Web 2.0 and there was loads of that going on yesterday.

Take one example right here. There are currently (as in right this second) several members of General Synod and those watching in the public and press galleries, twittering about what is going on. Twitter allows you to post comments on anything and then to respond to other people’s comments. Its a form of micro-blogging and since Monday there has been a community of twitterers developing around Church House, both Synod members, Staff members, press and those not at Synod but commenting on what is going on. As the tweeting goes on, the community develops so that, for example, people are now including “#synod” in their messages to make sure anybody searching for “synod” picks up their comment. And trust me, there are LOADS of people doing it.

Or take the example of a facebook conversation yesteday between Bishop Pete Broadbent and Dave Walker, public and available for all to see (and comment on). Fascinating stuff, and by all accounts Pete B was chatting while sat in the chamber itself. On top of that there were the usual blogging suspects (including yours truly) linking to the best bits of eveybody else, and in doing so helping to guide people around what was going on.

What does this all mean? Well, I think one of the benefits of this is the sharing of information, the fact that the internet means that you can’t contain a story if you want to. While the press office might want to put a particular spin on a story, social networking means that before they’ve even got a party line sorted out the movers and shakers already have an opinion and interpretation that’s been sifted through several different people for analysis. The internet lets us share information and in doing so helps to move towards the truth.

The other benefit is that it enhances personal relationships in that it allows them to be continued even when you are not physically present with someone (and vice-versa). So for example, I might have a conversation in the press room withsomeone, that person then leaves, but tweets about an aspect of what we’ve been discussing, and I leave a message in return on their facebook wall. The result is that the next time we physically meet the conversation (and relationship) has progressed. It means  that despite the fact that I’m not at Synod today, I’m still interacting with those who I was networking with yesterday.

And thirdly, there is a remarkable amount of communication across the theological and ecclesiological divides. You can’t tell on twitter where someone is theologically, so once you’ve had a conversation online with them and established the rudiments of friendship, it’s very hard to then meet them in the flesh and decide that since they actually want to rip the creeds up and start again that that means you’ll therefore stop talking to them. Social interaction (as opposed to theological debate) over the internet helps to keep the church together because it fosters primarily relationship rather than position defending. It’s hard in 120 characters to outline the reasons why you think someone’s theology is a pile of pants, but it’s really easy to tell them that what they just said was hilarious (and that you agree that singing in Synod is not advised outside of worship sessions).

Social networking is transforming modern life and in particular the life of the church. It’s ultimately about relationships and sharing experiences, and if the church can suss out how to use the tools available it can only help to strengthen, not damage community.

Update 17:00 – The word on the street is that Bishop Pete Broadbent might just be the first member of General Synod to sign up to twitter while actually sitting in the House!!!! Are mobile phones useful or what?

Update 17:25- A tweeted reply from his Grace confirms the above. He did sign up, on his phone, while sat in session. We are truly in the presence of greatness!

3 Comments on “Synod goes Web 2.0

  1. One disadvantage is that people at Synod are less likely to be paying attention to the debate if they are twittering and blogging from the chamber. This is a big problem at tech conferences – so much so that the LUGRadio conference in Wolverhampton explicitly did not provide WiFi. Of course, whether you think this matters or not depends on whether you think Synod debates actually change anyone’s mind.

  2. Hmm. In one sense of course you’re right, Gervase. However, I did an exercise in live blogging for the Women Bishop Debates in York in July and here in London yesterday, and I would say that the fact I was constantly updating a blog meant that I had to concentrate very carefully on what was going on… Scroll through and see what you think.

  3. Peter

    Good point, well made.  I’ll be featuring a ‘Synofical Tweet of the Week’ on my blog.  The really interesting thing for me will be if we manage to convert this introspectic chat into a way of engaging with those outside the church.  This movement is at least getting people in the church speaking the same language as everyone else.  Dave Walker’s (blogged) cartoon on evangelism says it all.

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