Here’s where producers of Bible software and apps come into play. To keep this response from getting too long, I will simply make a number of observations,
[TB: WordPress is throwing a fit every time I try to post these, so I’ll post them one by one :( ]
My sense is that there will always be a place for audio Bibles, but they will not likely become a predominant form.
You, Tim, have been involved with the podbible and the 5minutebible projects, and there is also The Bible Podcast site. These are great resources for people who have various challenges reading, and my commuting students loved having them available. On the other hand, hearing is just much slower than reading, audio is becoming largely associated with music, and music is being challenged by video.
It’s probably safe to say that the number of Bible readers is directly related to the number of Christians. In the West (and the best numbers I could find relate in general to Europe and the USA), there has been a steady decrease in the number of self-identified Christians and church attendance. It’s no surprise, then, that Bible reading has decreased, and the only way to reverse this contribution to the decline has to be a revitalization of Christianity in the West. The follow-up question then is, “Can new technologies contribute to the revitalization of Christianity, including the reading of the Bible?”
I think there is also a conceptual factor at work. People still simply conceive of the Bible as a printed, physical book. There is an older gentleman in my home congregation who uses a computer regularly for email and internet, but when he reads his Bible, he pulls out his mother’s RSV Bible from the 1950’s. It’s rewarding for him to have that tangible connection with his family’s history. Even when he was part of an online Bible study group, and I linked directly to biblical texts using bib.ly or Reftagger, he still pulled out his Bible to read the text. It’s not just an issue with older readers, however. Biblical scholars and seminary students have certainly discovered the benefits of working with Bible software, but I don’t know how many of them actually just read the Bible on their computer. How does this concept of the Bible as a physical book affect the number of people reading the Bible? Sales of physical books have been steadily declining in recent years, and just last year, Amazon reported that they were selling more e-books than physical ones. So, if fewer people are reading physical books, and the Bible is primarily conceived as a physical book, we should not be surprised to see a decrease in Bible reading. I believe that the majority of Bible readers simply have not made the shift to think of the Bible as a digital resource.
Now the question becomes, “Can people be enticed to read the Bible if it is delivered in digital forms?”
[More in part three all being well, WordPress problems continue.]
Mark, advances in electronic communications technologies and equipment (especially Internet and mobile phones) makes Scripture and the tools to understand it more easily and widely available than ever. Yet at the same time rates of engaged regular Scripture reading among Christians in the West since the reformation has hardly been lower.
Are there technologies or tools you think have the potential over the next few years to revitalize Scripture reading among Western Christians?
Thanks for this question, Tim. I know it’s a concern that is near to your heart!
Two or three decades ago, at least in the United States, it was not unusual to see Christians who would regularly carry their Bibles around with them and presumably read them. There was quite a market for Bible carrying cases. A quick check on Amazon shows that there still is a market for them (over 900 items under “bible carrying case”), but there in the fourth spot is a “Leather Christian iPad 2 Case.” My point? As you note, technology is providing more biblical resources than ever, and they are easier than ever to access. So why the decrease in Bible reading?
I am convinced that Christians, both consumers (readers) and producers of content, will eventually get in sync with the possibilities technology offers, but it also is probably going to require some revitalization of Christianity in general. I’m trying to say a few things with that sentence, so let me expand.
[I have been having real problems with WordPress today :( I hope I can post the expansion in another post.]
As part of the local celebrations of the KJV/AV jubilee (what does one call a 400 year anniversary?) I’m to speak on a distinguished panel. My thought is to address the well-known aural/oral qualities of the KJV/AV and relate that to the possibilities of various oralities/new oralities introduced by the move to electronically mediated communications.
But I am stuck :( Searches in all the usual places for combinations of the terms “oral, aural, KJV, Authorised Version, King James” do not seem to lead me to useful reading.
Do you have any suggestions? If so please, please let me know!
TED often has inspiring and intriguing short talks. Though, as a long-time visitor to the site I’m less easily wowed than I used to be. One from the latest crop is a commercial demo. It’s what Push Pop Press (or possibly TED) think is “the next-generation digital book”. Take a look, it is impressive:
I suspect the technologically clever windmill that turns when you blow will lose its wow in a few weeks, but the possibilities of the visuals is stunning. Though in the demo the data “visualizations” were on the whole less than impressive. Not a patch on for example the more static data visuals TED demonstrated a while back.
And that’s my frustration with Push Pop Press’ Al Gore book, it looks good, it may be fun, but it is static. Umberto Eco classified literature on a scale from closed to open texts. Closed texts tell you what to think, open texts encourage exploration and readers to form their own understandings. (Although his distinction was intended to describe a significant feature of fiction, I think it applies at least as powerfully to educational and “factual” books.) Looked at with Eco’s eyes, Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth is a closed text, it fails to encourage exploration or imagination, but tells us what to think. Despite its title Our Choice is not about us learning and growing, it’s about us watching and enjoying a masterful performance by the programmers and designers.
This iBook is a digital equivalent of the bread and circuses TV or the mega-Church “worship” that are the opium of the people in the wealthy and comfortable bubble that is Western Culture. It is indeed a next-generation digital book as the corporates would like it to be, saleable and static, a disposable commodity. A true next-generation digital book would by contrast be open, it would encourage exploration and conversation far from being disposable it would open new possibilities and thoughts on return readings.
The technology for such a book does not need teams of expensive programmers. With minimal coding skills we could do it with a combination of HTML and WordPress. The linkages and connections made possible by <a href=http://… together with the ongoing conversation and community that blogging tools allow are all that is needed for a true Next-generation Digital Book. I love to see us produce a FOSOTT (free, open source Old Testament textbook) that as well as a paper edition offered an e-book version that included such interactivity.
Promoting a blog is easy, no need to list it in directories, just post a few interesting posts, and as with the most publishable academic articles make sure they “engage” with others (in blogging this may mean being rude, in academia proper fawning admiration is often better) and presto in a few weeks or months you are on your way with a growing readership.
Not so with Podcasts :(
Take Mark Goodacre’s excellent NT Pod. Mark is a fine scholar, teaching at a prestigious University, he’s an all-time nice guy, and famous in Biblical Studies online as the pioneer gateway keeper of the NT Gateway. His podcast is liked by 405 people on Facebook, and Twitted by many, yet it is sitting down in doldrums on Alexa, miles from the top 50. Podcasts are hard to promote…
First Google cannot, yet, index audio, so the “content” that draws the spiders is only that “teaser” you knock off at the last minute as you post the carefully crafted audio. Actually in terms of search engines it would be better to craft the few sentences of the teaser, and let the audio suck, it’s not “content” but text that is king of the search world.
Links, bloggers simply do NOT link to podcasts (unless you prod them really hard, I have not tried bribery, it might work… but is probably unethical) bloggers live in a world of blogs. Therefore they will link to your blog post that itself links to your podcast, but usually will fail to link to the real thing :( The only answer here is shameless self-promotion. So when the entertaining and much-commented How Jim West Really Knows So Much About Hell appeared it at first had a link to an earlier post here, but no link to the real content on 5 Minute Bible: Universalism, or Not? Part One: Jonah but I am determined1 so I posted a comment complaining, and presto a precious link :)
Yes, to promote a podcast you MUST trawl the web for podcast directories and submit your site to them, without that no one will find you except your children and cousins, or if you are a teacher your students ;)
So, this is an appeal to YOU, if you have a blog or other web presence please link to AT LEAST one podcast this week :)
PS: Having mentioned the problems of promoting podcasts, I should do my bit by mentionning other related podcasts here. In particular one I have not linked to before: The [ad hoc] Christianity Podcast a weekly show on theological and ethical issues facing the Christian community “non-obnoxious” and laid back. With Travis Jacobs, Steve Douglas, and Matthew Raymer.
You do know that this is an irregular verb don’t you: I am determined, you are stubborn, s/he is pig-headed! [↩]
But what a shame that so few people try to experience the “otherness” of Scripture by learning to read in Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic, but all that effort for just a few chapters may be more understandable laziness).
My hi-tech expensive phone, I won't show the MP3 player as it is old battered and tacky, but also works ;)
Judging by a conversation with a colleague today, and by John’s comments on my previous post teachers often do not realise just how easy podcasting lectures is, or that they almost certainly already use all the equipment necessary. So here’s a recipe, with equipment list and step by step instructions:
Mobile phone or MP3 player which can record and connect to a PC. My two year old Nokia 3120 Classic – current price 100 Euros or about US$135 and my six year old cheapest available then MP3 player (some more modern even cheaper MP3 players lack tghe facility to record but the SanDisk Sansa Clip can, and Amazon sell them for <US$30)
Access to a computer with Internet – since you are reading this you already have that for sure.
The capacity to go to the Mobile Media Converter site and download and install the program. (If you think this is difficult ask your grandchildren!) You will also need Audacity if you want to be really clever and edit the podcast.(NB this is probably not necessary but will give you extra bragging rights in the staff room ;)
If your institution does not have a course system you will also need either iTunes or a blog – but I am assuming your institution already has Moodle, or something like that.
There, the equipment list was not too frightening, and the cost is less than $50 in the worst case. Now for the instructions.
Practice finding the “record” feature on your phone or MP3 player (these can be fiddly so allow 30 mins). Check the battery well BEFORE the class.
Remember to take the phone (preferably in silent mode or with the SIM card removed, it is embarassing as well as spoiling the recording if the lecturer’s phone goes off ;) or MP3 player with you.
At the start of class (but ideally after the faffing around at the beginning) switch it to record. Place the phone or MP3 player on the lectern (for males in your shirt pocket may perhaps work better with some equipment or if you move around a lot).
Switch the record function off at the end – you DO NOT want to record your harassed replies to the students who ask questions after the class has finished!
Shift the new file to your computer.
Open MMC, select output format (MP3 is good ;) and drag the audio to it. (With some MP3 players you miss out this stage.)
Upload the new converted file it to the course site.
Sit back and enjoy the student appreciation and be the envy of your luddite colleagues – you are now a Fully Fledged Digeratus (or Digerata).
Get ambitious and remove the odd bits you don’t want to podcast and/or the first six “ums” and “errs” – this means using Audacity, but the editing task is easier than it sounds. Just find the wiggles that represent the bit to cut, highlight them (one by one) by dragging with your mouse, and press delete. Don’t worry about mistakes as Audacity has an undo feature. You are now an Advanced Digerata (or Digeratus).