What has bothered me for years, before I even knew of “Social Graph”, which came into usage with the name given it by Facebook, is how the technological community in the church has stopped thinking theologically when it comes to technology. In their embrace and efforts to be relevant and resist the accusations that the church is anti-technological, they (we) have adopted not only technology, but the vision for it from the world outside the church, which has kept us from realizing so much of the potential for a rich experience of relational data to connect us spiritually and theologically. If we could only come to the realization that Facebook did, and grasp some seemingly simple notions of how people develop their face to face networks, we could greatly enhance the extent of the reality of a Body of Christ, by taking our face to face community experience and shared stories, and find ways of extending those connections into the wider Web-o-sphere.
When we can be enabled to find some interaction with dispersed people we would not have otherwise met, who share some particular theological passions and concerns as we do, we can in turn build some powerful networks that enable us to do some theological interpersonal shaping of theologies that leverage the power of networks which open a new dimension to the sense of the collaborative; and ultimately, of fellowship extended. This is not an “improvement” or replacement for face to face. It is an extension.
It includes the face to face people in our physically gathered communion of saints, and extends those connections into offline, anytime, asynchronous availability. That experience is very tangible, and heightens the sense of being together even when we are not physically gathered. That our fellow journeyers are “there” for us not only to be with us in person, but we are able to add to our previous conversations what we have taken away with us since we last met. And these ongoing conversations are available , if we wish, to be found by others. And here is where the power of the Social Graph lies. Through our building of modular data of theological concepts (modular in that the taxonomy grows as our network of user/particpants grows), we enable a “discoverable community” that can be found as people look for kindred and/or relevant theological conversation. Our theological database is structured such that we can move up , down, or across to find a broader category of thought/theology that includes our specific search, down into sub-areas within that field, or over to related areas that are linked by virtue of the way other users tend to read and participate in other conversations. It’s something like the Amazon “People who bought this also bought these things”. This is a great concept for theological conversations. It almost creates its own curriculum.
I’ve tried to get people involved and engaged in such a concept for 15 years, and thought about it for another 5-6 years before that. When Facebook began to talk about how they leverage basically all of their system off of what they call “The Social Graph”, I thought we were on the cusp of starting to see the connections and perhaps a fulfillment of what I had been trying to articulate and convince people about for all these years.
The interconnectedness of books and related data provides us with a clue. The topics, use of tags, Authors (who tend to attract participants together with common interests encouraged by the author’s selection of topics on which to write) and the theological taxonomy we should be beginning to build, give us an ecosystem onto which an expanding and maturing Social Graph can take shape. To this, we need to bring in our immense history of theological work. Some of this occurred to me as a read through a list of author Chris Hedges’ most influential people (many of them writers).