Catholic theologian and University of Dayton professor Vincent Miller visited the Donahue Auditorium in the Dolan Center for Science and Technology on Tuesday, Feb. 11 to pose two questions: Does new media technology help you be in communication with others, and does it form you? He confessed that he did not know the answer to the questions, saying that though he has lived only a small part of his life in the new communication era, he was not raised in it. However, Miller had some insights into what media means and how the Church wants to utilize it.
“The new media is a media revolution, but know that we have been through them before,” said Miller.
Miller cited Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, written in the first century.
“This was the new media of the time,” Miller said. “This was technology from the start of Christianity.”
Other examples of ancient media, including stained-glass windows depicting stories of Christian faith in the 1100s and the production of affordable copies of the Bible during the Reformation, all caused major shifts in the understanding of Christianity. Miller claimed that the technology of the times dictate new media of communication through Christianity’s history.
Miller addressed the question of how media operate in the Church today, saying it depends on what is meant by the word “media.” Miller made a distinction between media as a tool with which people can communicate and overcome distance, and media as a place in which we dwell.
“Media is plural for the word medium,” he explained.
Miller claimed that media in the sense of digital communication had limits, and that digital communication operated in a low risk, high-intensity basis. These characteristics came with both positive and negative repercussions based on how tools of communications were utilized.
The very basis of Christianity depends on the second of Miller’s two distinctions of media: media in which people dwell.
“The church is founded on the most fundamental level on the communication of love between the Trinitarian persons in God,” said Miller. “God in God’s self is in constant communication.”
Miller said that since humans are made in the image and likeness of God, they are meant to be in “flesh and blood” contact with others.
“We only find our true personhood in communication with others,” he said.
According to Miller, Pope Francis models effective communication that emphasizes the importance of essential interpersonal communication through electronic media.
Showing pictures of Francis engaging the poor and disfigured in a physical, interpersonal way, Miller emphasized that Francis was stressing the importance of meeting people in a flesh and blood way, rather than just using technology solely as a tool for communicating a message over distance.
With the background of Christian communication established, Miller posed the questions a second time, saying that the new generation needs to figure out the answers. He said that Christians must ask themselves how media, as a tool with limitations, affect us, and how we can affect the media.
The night ended with students talking about how they wanted to use media in the future.
“I think it really impersonalizes people,” said freshman Connor Lynch. “If you don’t like somebody, you can click someone out of your life. It conditions us for real life. Indifference carries over.”
“I didn’t even have an email before John Carroll,” said sophomore Kevin Kussmaul. “I think a lot of people are too attached to it. They try to live vicariously through it. I’ve seen my friends do that, and it’s not necessary.”
When asked why he was interested in new media in relationship to Christianity, Miller said, “In the contemporary world, if you want to think about Christianity and culture, you have to look at the material communication structures to engage the culture.”
Miller said he hopes that the college generation will feel the same way.