Category Archives: Web & Tech

Theological Debates on Facebook- Are They Profitable?

I’d like to ask a question—can profitable discussion on a theological issue actually happen on Facebook?

I had an experience recently where someone took offense because they felt I was commenting too much on their theologically oriented wall post.  But the determination of “too much” was based on his purely subjective notion of how much commenting on his post was appropriate.  Now I’ll admit — after he posted a critique of a theological “meme” (i.e., statement) I was quite dogged in asking him to provide the reasoning behind his several assertions about it.   He declined to do so, which of course, is his prerogative.  On the other hand, it was also my prerogative to continue to comment and engage with others in the discussion, which is what I did.  But this seemed to disturb him.

I chose to comment on this particular post because it touched on God’s sovereignty, a theological issue I think extremely important and practical for believers. In declining to respond to my request for explanation of his argument, one reason he gave is that Facebook is not a conducive forum (for intelligent debate).

Well,  in one sense he may be right.  The Facebook feed comes at you with many random streams of data.  Perhaps for many of us the experience of being in FB is like watching TV while flipping through channels– one is just looking for passive, mindless entertainment.  Yet we can choose to focus our attention, can’t we, even while in Facebook?

Now it’s true Facebook discussions can be utterly worthless and a waste of time when the participants simply talk past one another.  We see this all the time.  But, especially among Christians talking theology, I don’t see why civil, gracious, intelligent, even fruitful discussion may not occur, if we actually take time to hear one another out and respectfully present our arguments.   Of course, because Christians are sinful human beings, discussion may devolve from noble passion to fleshly, ignoble heat.  Yet as long as folks refrain from personal attacks, imputation of bad motives, and maintain focus on the issues at hand,  giving each other some grace, I think discussions can stay on track.  We may even learn from them.

I have been involved in debates both good and bad.  In bad ones (and for me these seem to occur more often on Facebook) folks seem impatient with the process of discussion/argument itself– thus they neglect thoughtful responses and are very reactive (I’ve been guilty of this myself, as I’m sure many of us have).   Also it seems some want to state their opinion just as a soundbite (perhaps related to the ephemeral nature of Facebook?), but are not  prepared (nor seemingly interested) to defend their view/opinion against possible objections.

I’ve also participated in more interesting and productive online theological “debates” (over at the Theologica forum, for example).  I believe the difference between good and bad theological discussions relates in part to whether participants are confident enough in their own position to open the floor to debate and allow various sides to present their respective cases.  Sure, maybe 9 times out of 10, such debates end with folks remaining firmly convinced of the truth of their own original position, but at least those participating and/or “listening in” can examine the reasoning and arguments of all the positions and form their own conclusions.  In this way, I think such dialogue may be beneficial. Also, when one has to defend one’s position, it challenges you to think more deeply on it, if only to be able to articulate the reasons for one’s stand and to answer objections.  This can surely sharpen one’s thinking.  Debate isn’t necessarily bad (as some tend to think); if handled well, it can be educational, even edifying.  Though not necessarily easy, I think fruitful theological debate is do-able.  It’s a shame we don’t often achieve it.

Going back to my recent experience, again I own up to the fact that I was very insistent on continuing the discussion even after the originator of the post said he did not want to engage further with me.  I was so eager to make a persuasive case that Gods’ sovereignty is a crucial, foundational and practical truth in the believer’s life, one that can help us even as we try to make sense of all the bad and evil things that happen in a fallen world.   So I pressed on in the discussion, with the thought I would interact with others who were also commenting.  Was continuing like this a breach of commenting etiquette?  I don’t know.  But I would also ask, if one is not interested in the give and take required for a theological dialogue to be productive and/or educational, then why initiate a discussion in a public forum?

Thoughts?

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Home Pages – Why Use One?

My personal Netvibes page

Recently Google announced that it would be retiring iGoogle, a personalized homepage service they have offered since 2005.   Many iGoogle fans are protesting, and Google says iGoogle won’t be phased out until November 2013, so perhaps with enough user feedback they’ll change their minds.  But some of you may be asking, “What’s a home page” or “Why do I need a home page?”

A personalized home page is set up by a user to be the “landing page” when opening their browser of choice as they connect to the Internet via their PC, Mac, or laptop.  Home pages provide a convenient way for users to gather together in one place the information they want ready access to.  Typically users place on their home page such things as local weather, personal calendar, email, news feed, favorite blog and anything else they want quick access to.  I have been using home pages for a long time, and have found them very helpful for their intended purpose of conveniently gathering together information in one page.  iGoogle is one of the home pages services I’ve tried out over the years, and I like it because it has a clean look and and loads quickly.  However I have mostly used Netvibes, which I found more customizable, especially visually.  But I have also found that Netvibes often loads slowly, especially on pages which include  a lot of media content.

So why use a home page?  Well, as already noted, they provide convenience in getting to information one wants quickly.  Instead of visiting several different sites for information on weather, news, calendar, email, etc., one can put all this information in their personalized home page.

But it seems with more and more people accessing the web via their cell phones , iPads and tablets, leaders in the web industry such as Google are focusing technical efforts on developing apps which provide the same rapid access functionality that home pages have provided.

As a smartphone user I am a big fan of the Pulse apps, which provide lightning fast access to the big news stories of the day, customized by user selection of sources.  Pulse also has a cool web-based version of their apps, which I have been using lately as an alternate home page.  Feedly is another favorite of mine.  It takes one’s existing Google reader feeds and arranges them in a magazine-style web page.  And Google Reader is my favorite feed reader, with the usual clean Google look  and intuitive functionality.  Both Feedly and Google Reader also have mobile apps.

So I’ve found that home page services and feed readers alike provide convenience and efficiency as one seeks information from the Internet, whether it’s news, weather or reading favorite blogs.  Personally I think that there will still be a need for home pages like iGoogle in the foreseeable future, but if iGoogle is gone there will always be other good alternatives.

Do you use a home page?  If so, which one do you use?

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