‘Analogue man’ is the title track of Joe Walsh’s new album. There seemed a slight incongruity in listening to it broadcast on RTE Radio via a television set tuned into the Astra satellite in a house in south-west France. Songs of protest against the digital age are likely to be as effective as complaining about the weather; that digital communication has fundamentally changed the world is beyond denial.
Twenty years ago the Church of Ireland held a broadcasting conference at which it was warned that digital technology would marginalise the churches. While not laughing out loud, those gathered that day in Dublin were completely dismissive of the suggestion that a revolution was coming that would sweep away those who thought their positions secure. Twenty years on and the church is completely marginalised, allowed broadcasts on the AM frequency where the listenership for Sunday services is barely more than a thousand and allowed television slots, which, with 20,000 viewers, attract a smaller audience than a weekend morning programme on a local radio station.
The church has entirely failed to come to terms with the digital age; it still talks about philosophy when practice precedes principle; it still believes in structures when the individual is now king; it still believes in hierarchy when the digital age is the most egalitarian in history. What do bishops mean to people? What do the propositional statements that pass for communication in our church mean to a generation that simply responds by saying ‘whatever’? Authority can no longer be something assumed, it can only come from a respect learned through interactions.
The Church of Ireland remains wedded to the idea that one responds to challenges by forming committees and drafting reports, which are discussed and shelved. The church’s belief that it has responded to the new paradigm in an effective way by building clunky, pedestrian websites that smack of the last century points up its failure to understand what is going on. The transient, the fluid, the informal and the unstructured are now the order of the day; what matters in the new context is not canon law and constitutional governance but relationships – one to one relationships, because in the digital age direct personal contact is now the norm.
Were the Church of Ireland releasing an album, its title track might be ‘Analogue Church’. Mind you, that album would be recorded on vinyl and would be made available from selected outlets.