The New Gatekeepers of Information
In the early days of the Church, it was believed that the Pope had the sole authority to interpret Scripture. Matters of the Church were not discussed with lay people, but rather kept behind closed doors. Dissemination of information was controlled by the papacy.
About 600 years ago a great transformation took place. Power shifted from the papacy to the people during the Reformation with the help of the printing press. The Protestant reformists believed the sole authority of the Church should be the Scripture itself. They had to get the Scripture out to the people.
The Hands of the People
Johannes Gutenberg created the printing press and his famous Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed. The significance of this event cannot be overstated. The Bible, for the very first time in history, was made easily available to the layperson. “A single Renaissance printing press could produce 3,600 pages per workday, compared to 40 by hand-printing and a few by hand-copying. Books of bestselling authors (like Martin Luther) were sold by the hundred of thousands in their lifetime.” Protestant Christians today have much to thank for this.
There is a seismic shift today just as transformative as the printing press. This shift is a result of the Internet. Today you can access the Bible from anywhere. Over 10 million people each month go to BibleGateway.com to read the Word of God, in over 50 different languages. Information is no longer scarce.
Just as the printing press overcame information scarcity by liberating content, there is a greater trend taking hold. It is now about the over-abundance of information.
In the early 1990s, mainstream public was first introduced to the Internet. ISP (Internet Service Provider) portals were the rage. Whoever controlled the connecting point to the Internet controlled what the user saw. AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN started this way. If you purchased an Internet dial-up connection, the first thing you saw was the ISP’s portal homepage. Yahoo! aggregated their content from various sources for everything, from finance, auto, health and entertainment to gaming. The ISPs were king and controlled what content appeared on their portals.
By the early 2000s, users began to learn about all the wonderful content outside their ISP. No matter how esoteric your search was Google could find it for you. No single portal could create and compete against all the Internet content in the world. Soon ISP portals became nothing more than commodity Internet connections. Google became the new king of the Internet because it could find and recommend any content of interest to you.
Search technology did extremely well for the first half of this decade until information grew from scarcity to glut. As content creation proliferated and grew exponentially, it no longer became feasible for users to “find” the best content. Google offered relevant results, but it was useful only to people who knew exactly what they were looking for.
This is where social networks entered the scene. Now, content recommendation is not only pervasive but has also become its main value proposition. Facebook users share over five billion pieces of content (links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) each week.
With social networking, the new gatekeepers of information are now you and I. Whether it is email, Twitter, or Facebook, we share content with people we like. And we consume content from people we trust. You may not go to YouTube to discover content. But you probably have received and viewed countless YouTube videos recommended to you by your friends and family.
What does this trend mean to us, as Christians and leaders in churches? Content control has shifted from the portals to the search engines, and now, finally to you and I, the readers. When you read something you like, and you believe it is relevant and impactful to your friends and family, share it with them. More importantly, share it to where it can easily be re-shared across the Internet. For many people, that place is social networks such as Facebook, now numbering over 400 million users per month.
The Internet frontier is probably the most significant development in this millennium. When content was scarce, it was a consumption issue. How do you access the right content? When content became over-abundant, it became a recommendation issue. How do you sort out the right content from the sea of noise?
As leaders, we need to do our part to break through this sea of noise for our friends, family, and church community. We need share God’s impact in our lives. Share our testimony. Share the Word. Share his love. Share the faith. And on social networks today, it cannot get any easier.
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