I recently sat down to watch a movie that I had been anticipating for some time, Up in the Air.
The movie, shot almost exclusively in hotels, airports and corporate offices is a tremendous effort to capture what defines a relationship. The movie is a parable on communication, relationships and humanity.
For those that haven't seen the film a brief synopsis.
Ryan Bingham, the film's protagonist, (George Clooney) travels over 300 days out the year to various offices as a contracted employment terminator. He fires people. While out on the road, he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga). Alex, like Ryan is out on the road, or up in the air, just as much, going from Herzt to Hilton to O'Hare and back again. The two strike a relationship that is matches their non-committed worlds. Then enters Natalie Keener, the over ambitious recent grad with a new plan to save the company a fortune by carrying out these firing through an internet video chat system.
The film gets interesting as we see these three characters in a dance of mistrust and misunderstandings. Natalie's new plan to fire people via iChat lacks the experience that veteran Ryan has. She shadows Ryan on these visits to ease the transition of face-to-face to online. Ultimately the switch fails. This lost in communication is highlighted by the fact that halfway through the film, Natalie is dumped by her fiance via text. Alex and Ryan's no trust relationship suddenly gets complicated and comes in nothing less than a crash landing...
This is a shotgun summary of the plot. What the film demonstrates is the irreducible complexity of human communication. I could have said human relationships, but the plot is more pointed than that. What is irreducibly complex about communication? Since, it seems to be increasing in every direction possible (social media, hot spots, 4G). This is the question that Up in the Air asks. Is all this technology really making things any easier? Is communication merely being able to transfer a verbal message? Video? Audio? All together? Up in the Air offers the proposal that there is no substitute for human interaction.
Carlos Whitaker. I am almost tempted to refer to him by his Twitter account name LosWhit, since that it is all I really know. Whitaker is a self proclaimed "artist, pastor, thinker, experience architect, and Web 2.0 junkie". He has worked at some churches doing interesting things usually involving hyphenated titles with words like "creativity". If you go to his website, you will find he offers "coaching" services. This coaching consists of him following you on all and any social media sites and offering suggestions via a video chat conference an hour once month for $200 a month. (I'm not concerned about whether this is a fair rate.) I want to ask the same question as Up in the Air, is this really communication? Is this ministry? Is this the best medium for communicating?
There is more than I am aware of that gets lost in a mediated communication. McLuhan's basic thesis in The Medium is Massage is that the technological means that humans use to communicate alters, shapes, reduces, reforms that message.
LosWhit is an example of a dangerous trend. Paul did send letters to churches, but it was obvious that he valued being there in person over a letter. He even sent someone to deliver the letter. I don't think these are merely technological constraints. I think Paul knew the importance of a human being in the presence of another. When a Christian is before another, Christ himself is before that brother. What is lost in video chats and online sermons is the body of Christ. Unfortunately much of the ministry being done this way will remain up in the air.