When historians write about the current decade what will they say? As it nears its end, it’s a question worth thinking about. Was it the time when finally the seriousness of climate change was recognised? The era when we began to wrestle with the epic proportions of abuse in many of our great institutions? The decade of the explosion of social media and AI? The time in which China assumed its role of global dominance? The era of decline, division and disaster in the former powerhouse of the global economy – the industrialised North.
These questions and more are incredibly difficult to answer without the benefit of hindsight.
Without the gift of prophecy, but with a panel of expert practitioners and theorists, last month Christians in Media attempted to answer a more manageable version of this question… “What will the media look like in 2019?”
Now an annual event, the futurecasting gathering attracted a good crowd in a central London venue to listen to the panel musing on trends in tech, the theology of human relationships in the digital era and how the ancient Good News might have something to say to a wider society which is fearful, overwrought and seeking direction.
The panel was chaired by James Poulter, an expert in social media, voice tech and AI. Fresh from an Alexa conference in Tennessee, James steered the panel through an hour’s worth of conversation which would have lasted much longer. Despite the fissiparous times in which we live, the room buzzed with excitement at the potential for Christian values of grace, truth and hope to infuse the media and, as a result, the rest of society in 2019 and beyond.
Setting the scene, Dr Sara Schumacher, an expert in theology and the arts at St Mellitus College, told the audience that she predicts younger generations will teach older generations how to use media well. Older generations will teach younger generations what it means to be human.
She touched on the idea that people are trying to find their own order in a disorderly world. Most notably, after Netflix aired Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, donations to charity shops doubled - proving that it touched a cord with audiences worldwide.
Picking up on the theme of disorder, Warren Nettleford – an experienced ITN journalist – said “The only known unknown is that we’ll have confusion but we’re not sure what that confusion will lead to.”
“As a journalist we have to be more responsible than ever before,” he continues. “People are looking for other forums and channels to get answers to what they want. There is a loss of trust in established media channels.”
The multi award-winning Church of England digital team has overseen a spate of innovations in the past couple of years. Amaris Cole is a core part of the team and struck a positive note when telling the room how much progress was being made in the digital space by an institution with a reputation for more bucolic pursuits. Amaris said: “We’re focusing on faith in the home- families are using Alexa devices, we want to help parents to grow faith with their children.”
The Rev Dr Christopher Landau, a former BBC journalist, is part of a dynamic church in Oxford. From his vantage point working with students who have grown up as ‘digital natives’ his reflections were encouraging, stating that lo-fi social media and digital minimalism are among trends to look out for in 2019.
Brexit was never far from the minds of those present, with the uncertainty over what will happen regularly acknowledged as a cause of real anxiety. Yet the overwhelming tone of the panel wasn’t bleak – and maybe that’s what sets apart an event taking place within a Christian framework? Hope was never far from the lips of those asking questions or giving answers. Whether it’s the astonishing ways in which smart speakers now allow the transmission of prayers from an app to the family meal table or the profound way in which Christian theology gives a horizon beyond the backbiting and bile of politics in 2019.
Christians in Media exists for those who work in many fields of both secular and faith media. It has members in advertising, PR, broadcast, social, print, and many forms of digital. One of the things which unites these fields is the way they influence public opinion and mood. In a time of acute discomfort in the political process, the economy and the wider social environment, it’s vital Christians act as salt in the midst of their workplaces. Christians in media environments can often feel isolated which churches can be sceptical of those who work in secular media environments.
This event showed why it’s important Christians remain committed to truth and justice and creating excellent content for wide dissemination. It also showed that we may look back on 2019 as a year of positives as well as negatives.