Wednesday, June 02, 2010

End of an Age - On Paradigm Shifts and Thinking Out Loud

I wrote the following this morning as a private letter to a colleague in response to a question he had asked of me a week or more ago. I thought I would share it here because the ramifications are much bigger than he and I.


I was reminded of some of your thoughts during my morning reading today. The following quote from Here Comes Everybody:

"Social effects lag behind technological ones by decades; real revolutions don't involve an orderly transition from point A to point B. Rather, they go from A through a long period of chaos, and only then reach B. In that chaotic period, the old systems get broken long before new ones become stable."

A blip in the book, but an important one for anyone wrestling with the implications of decaying institutions. We have been here before at other historical times of paradigm shift. What is important to recognize is that it is not all institutions that will decay always and forever, but, rather, institutions built upon the old paradigm (in this case, pre-internet/global-flattening coupled with the descent of the American economy from global prominence.)

There will be institutions in the future. They just won't look like the ones we have now. My generation has been characterized by the Boomers, et. al., as being lazy. Are we really lazy? No. (Well, yes.) But it is more that we put a premium on efficiency because we've realized that we can. We're operating naturally/culturally in a shifted paradigm. The globe still must catch up, but it won't happen until the old paradigm generations pass away. The question is, how much capital can be lost before that happens? What truly useful institutions will go down with the old paradigm ship? How can we get them onto the lifeboat of at least partial new models?

Let me give a concrete example from the recent English District convention. (I have no wish to besmirch anyone. This is about models, not people.) The Board of Directors report to the convention is an excellent example of an old institution not making the shift.

From what I've seen, the BoD is a very small body which holds the tremendous task of setting the policy and agenda for an entire national district. Their official report to the convention consisted of a power-point (15 to 20 minutes - hours to put together?) showing pictures of the board and staff, with bullet points of an abstract list of attributes claimed about the board by the board: "we are joyful," "we are prayerful."

In the new paradigm, that is lazy and completely wasteful. It was an advertisement for the BoD making very poor use of the latest tech from 15 years ago. Whether true or not, it looked like an institution which is (at best) useless to real work in the parish/field.

What the BoD should be doing in today's enviromenment, at the very least, is keeping concrete minutes of its real time decisions on a monthly basis, and publishing them via a social network page. (And this should be being done by a local volunteer, or the secretary of the BoD.) Even better, a clear representation of debated/disagreed upon points might be presented so that all concerned parties might hear how the events which affect us all are being decided/defended.

This would be moving towards an institution which might survive because it would be attempting to operate in the new paradigm. "Authentic" is only one of the words about the new paradigm - and by itself means very little, but a key aspect of authenticity is transparency. Institutions which are not transparent will decay in the age of the internet when the globe has been lain flat. People will choose to follow new institutions which are at the very least trying to be transparent in the way the new networks allow/force them to be.

Those are just ideas. The point I'm trying to share is this: it is not institutions that are going to die. It is institutions that insist on the old paradigm as their paradigm that are going to die with the old paradigm. In this, the greatest hindrance will be (as it always has been in history) those who confuse the old order with the essence of our existence.

Example from the book: Abbot Johannes of Sponheim who published "In Praise of Scribes" in 1492 in order to defend their necessity to the future of society. But he published the book using the printing press. The medium destroyed the message.

How will "administrators" adapt to an age in which administration can no longer be considered a "profession" because it doesn't need to be? The social networking and media tools have taken their place, just as the printing press took the place of the scribes. Keeping the network ("district" "synod" etc) together no longer "needs" an office. It can an will happen automatically via the new tools. If it doesn't happen under the leadership of those who are in the offices now, it will happen under the leadership of those who are outside the offices but leading naturally through adaptive existence in the new paradigm. (Another example is the unifying effectiveness of Issues, Etc, which, without a wit of actual authority, continues to lead the LCMS precisely in the area of adapting to the new networking medium.)

The true visionary leader will see this clearly. He will not publish printed books on scribal necessity. He will not use the new technologies to defend and prop up the old administrative ordering. Instead, he will strive to order the administration according to the model of the new paradigm: the global, social network of hyper/mass-communication.

(As an aside, I believe there is a 2nd part to this future model, and is the return to locality as the center of life. Whereas the radio, TV and the expensive phone calls moved us to "nationalization," I believe that the internet and cheap phone calls will return us to neighborhood and city as microcosmic-parallel of/in-step-with the global network [which itself will be held together by actual/tangible shared ideology/theology/worldview].)


Sean said...


With the social networking vs. power point thing in particular, what about the time-wasting factor? I agree that most power-points are useless.... but facebook and twitter etc end up being greater timewasters. (I'm wasting time right now...) When you think of REALLY old paradigmers, they got tons done... wrote hundreds of books and articles in addition to pastoring hardcore and probably taking good care of their families too. Surely it's the lack of distractions (read: computer), yes?

All of us have that moment where we think, "hey... i'm gonna delete all my accounts and go outside and read books and write things instead, actually get work done and get TV & Computer out of my life." If we actually went through with it and we DID use our newly-freed time for awesome, would the accomplishments be pointless because we couldn't track & spread them via social networking?

Or are our new divisions of the one Office of the Holy Ministry (rather than bshp/dcn/prsbytyr, or Sr./Asst/Assoc pastor, or music/youth/family life/outreach/admin pastor) going to be global/local pastor? One spends his time online, the other spends his time in the homes/schools/hospitals?

RevFisk said...

Excellent thoughts. The answer from the book:

1. There's no going back. It's already happened. You can't turn it all off. To do so would be to be the monestary that keeps employing scribes. Eventually it will fade away.

2. This doesn't mean you can't read or manage your time.

3. Your idea of divisions de juro humano for the Office needing to shift are spot on. The way I have described Philly is that we need missionaries and circuit riders. In some ways, we need to think "older" not "newer."

But I think you're tracking well. And, as the title implies, I really don't claim to have a lock on this. The real point is to see that there is hope and that institutions will arise in the new paradigm. With the printing press, the fall out took 100 years. But everything is faster with the internet.

Anonymous said...

Reminds we of a conversation I had with the LCMS webmaster some years ago. When I expressed frustration at how difficult our website was to use, he suggested I needed to spend more time "learning to use it." Shortly after the conversation, I noticed that a mailing went out to the whole Synod "explaining" how to use the website.

Marc said...

On wasting time...

I think one of the amazing things about younger, internet-powered individuals these days is how much they actually get done while "wasting time."

Research is actually fun and interactive. Chat rooms are filled with conversation that serves the end of "work." Individuals are doing less work but communities are collectively doing more work because thoughts and resources are shared in real-time.

One of the shifts seems to be the blurring of lines between work and play. I might offer Rev. Fisk's worldview video log as an example. It might seem like play, or like a waste of time to his parishioners, but in order to prepare Greek Tuesday Rev. Fisk is not only studying for his upcoming sermon, he is also testing ideas for the same and perhaps most important to good preaching: having fun with the preparation. He is allowing himself to have fun with his work, and inviting other people to have fun with him doing his work, which - in a new-paradigm way - IS his work!

Like his example of boards using technology to increase transparency (and the pic of "accountability")... some might complain and say, "What DOES Rev. Fisk do with his time? How do we know he is actually working?!" The old model folks may want to see a time-card. Of course, if they really want to find out what he is doing and whether he is working, they can go online and see both THAT he is working and WHAT he is doing by watching a ten minute video on Tuesdays and Fridays. But that is new-paradigm accountability.

RevFisk said...

Couldn't agree more, Marc. Well said. You'd enjoy this book (or...maybe you wrote it???)

Anonymous said...

Pastor David Housholder wrote a post on a similar topic:

The Open Source Church

RevFisk said...


Fascinating link. Yes. He has taken the entire paradigm and decided to apply it wholesale. The concerns he raises are valid pieces of what will happen to most "churches," and, his sectarian theology bespeaks a swallowing entire of the camel, resulting in even more sectarianism.

I'm pretty sure I disagree with most of his conclusions, which, again, he is simply parroting from the anthropological side. The task of Bible believing Christians is to seek to discern when, where and how these changes can be embraced, while also discerning where the Word of God holds more Wisdom in foolishness than we do in our wisdom combined.

I think I have answers, but I'm still stewing on a lot of it. I guess my point here is, "Thank you for a classic example of the chicken little approach sectarian theology always takes to societal shifts." Or, if I might paraphrase Warren, "Get on the wave, or perish."

Thanks much for the comment! I hope my responding isn't too abrasive. +pax+

Anonymous said...

"Thanks much for the comment! I hope my responding isn't too abrasive. +pax+"

Not abrasive. Honest and forthright, therefore refreshing.

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