Thinking Out Loud

September 12, 2009

Flickering Pixels – How Our Screens Reshape Us

flickering pixelsBorrowing several times from Marshall McLuhan’s writing, Shane Hipps carefully demonstrates that not only is the media the message, but that technology is changing us both individually and as a society.

Although Flickering Pixels has been out for several months, it finally surfaced to the top of the review pile for which I am thankful.   In an extended form, this could be a textbook for either a course on media and communications, or a course on the psychology of modern life.

Instead, in 17 concise and highly focused chapters, readers are given an opportunity to consider different aspects of media shaping culture, beginning with the printing press, radio and television, and of course, computers and the internet.    Each has changed the way we perceive and understand our world and our role in it.

Shane Hipps is no stranger to this discussion.   Before making a career change and entering into pastoral ministry, he worked in advertising; a field dedicated to shaping and re-shaping our felt needs and personal consumption.   Some chapters are purely technical, historical and psychological; while in others he integrates Christian thought and scriptures into the discussion.

While it’s well known now that placing a child in front of a video screen before age two can essentially re-wire the neural pathways of the brain, Hipps would argue that this process is continuing throughout our lives, modifying with each new complexity of communications and social media.

And reshaping our faith.   Hipps won’t answer your question as to whether or not your local church should put the the day’s Bible reading on the PowerPoint screen, rather than have people turning to it in the pew copies.   It’s not that kind of book.  Though it might help you understand your reaction to the evening news:

The human psyche isn’t designed to withstand the full gravity of planetary suffering.   Numbness and exhaustion are natural reactions.   Feeling  helpless and hopeless is nearly inevitable.  The heart can only stretch so far so many times before it is worn thin and wrung dry.  This is empathy at a distance.

Over time, if unchecked, this numbness undermines our ability to extend compassion to those in our own city, neighborhood, or even our own homes.  The pain of the world, experienced through television can keep us from understanding and alleviating the pain we encounter in our daily lives.   The task of recalibrating our psyche and reigniting compassion must begin with local relationships.

But Flickering Pixels really doesn’t go beyond the understanding of the common reader.    This topic cuts so deeply into our everyday lives that not one person can say that are not impacted by the media under consideration.   It’s a book that should be bought by adults, and then passed on to their media savvy older teenagers with an encouragement to check out specific chapters and ‘tell me what you think.’

You might also enjoy hearing Shane speak.   Sermon audio from Trinity Mennonite Church in Arizona is available here.   We especially enjoyed an April 26th/09 message entitled “Thirsty.”


  1. Paul, good to see you today. My post regarding Joseph Scriven is up and running. You should just do a little blurb with a link to my article and see what response there is.



    Comment by David Fisher — September 12, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  2. […] pastoring Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Hipps is the author of the Zondervan book, Flickering Pixels, a book about how technology shapes […]

    Pingback by Rob Bell to Leave Mars Hill Grand Rapids « Thinking Out Loud — September 24, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

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