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The Breakdown of Institutions

While I haven't purchased this article to read it in its entirety ($300 for a research paper? Good night, someone email me a copy, we'll split it 100 ways, I'll owe you $3), I think that the subtitle should be a firestarter of a conversation, "How Networks Erode Institutional Power, And What to Do About It". It's actually funny that you have to read the subtitle to be excited about the article, because the title, "Social Computing" just doesn't do anything for me. Below is the Executive Summary, and then we'll extrapolate from there some ideas of how this could affect the Asian American church and the culture of church at large. I have included emphasis of words that caught my eye.

Easy connections brought about by cheap devices, modular content, and shared computing resources are having a profound impact on our global economy and social structure. Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.

And since we want to draw as much information from this article as possible without forking over the three Benjamins to actually own the article, I'm also pasting the Table of Contents here for your perusal. Again, fascinating stuff and emphasis mine.


itemTechnology Embeds Itself In Social Behavior

itemTechnology Brings Power To The Masses

itemSocial Trends Fuel Technology's Changing Role

itemWhy You Should Care About Social Computing

itemThe Tenets Of Social Computing

itemInnovation Will Shift From Top-Down To Bottom-Up

itemValue Will Shift From Ownership To Experience

itemPower Will Shift From Institutions To Communities

itemThe Economic Value Of Social Computing

itemCreating Value Means Relinquishing Control


itemWhat Social Computing Means For You

itemMarketers And Strategists: Listen More, Talk Less

itemIT: Make Social Computing A Strategic Asset

itemVendors: Build Communities Into Your Products


itemThe Pollution of the Commons

itemTruth, Identity, And Reality Are Tough To Find

This article is fascinating for a number of reasons; first of all, we haven't even read the thing in its entirety and it already gets the juices flowing; secondly, while it's not a theological treatise at all, it speaks a great deal as to why church must begin to take social computing and networking very seriously in order to impact our present culture; third, it makes me want to do research like this for a living; and finally, this notion of social computing reinforces postmodern notions of communication and community, which means that the Asian American church needs to enter into this type of medium in order to reach Asian Americans who will not be reached otherwise. Why Asian Americans in particular? DJ Chuang puts some quick facts together here to show that Asian Americans, due to our better-than-average education, better-than-most incomes, have a greater tendency to gravitate towards technology and being wired. In short, if any culture can be pre-disposed to "social computing", we fit the bill.

Sure, while it would be problematic to reconstruct from minimal exposure I have from the abstract of this research paper, I think the thesis here is significantly applicable to Asian American churches. Namely, that because "Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of Social Computing, [churches] must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their [programs] and services, use [laity] and [other churches] as [fellow promoters of the Gospel]".

Simply put, thanks to technology, the local church faces an inherent tension. I can subscribe to sermon podcasts of the finest evangelical communicators in the country, or the world for that matter. I can create a community and dialogue online that is not limited by geographical boundaries. All of which means, it's very feasible to make the statement that I trust Google, Wikipedia,, etc. as much or more than I do my local church because it becomes clear for me that the local church doesn't have a monopoly on my Christian walk. Ah, but you say I can't get community and discipleship from the Internet and other sources?

Well, I think you've got more of a fight on your hands than you recognize. More and more, our culture is absolutely in tune with the concepts of evangelism, branding, and community. What do you think user's groups are? Where do you think all these esoteric and hare-brained conventions come from? Why do you think people start athletic leagues, focus groups, happy hours, chat rooms, survivor groups, "Anonymous" groups, and on and on? The world has countered the church's notion of community and quite frankly, has improved upon it, because what is secular is somehow interpreted as much more broad and welcoming than the sacred. The more the church refuses to acknowledge, collaborate, and enhance those communities — refusing to make the secular sacred just by the virtue of interaction and dialogue, the more the church compromises itself and its impact upon our culture.

I understand some of the fears that Asian Americans have with postmodern churches and their theology, but in light of this research by the Forrester Group above and a recent Barna Group update, I can't help but think that "emerging church conversation" that is taking place in bars, pubs, cigar lounges and coffee shops is definitely a piece of the puzzle. Not the whole puzzle, but a piece. The last conclusion of the paper is that "truth, identity, and reality are tough to find" — is it possible that it's tough to find because the church has refused to leave the building?

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

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