Technology is not hermeneutically neutral; it has illocutionary force. That is to say, technology itself contributes to the meaning we derive from the texts and objects it mediates. So if you’re using a digital device related to discipleship, I want to suggest that the technology itself is having an impact on the meaning of whatever it is you’re reading, listening to, or otherwise engaging.
To illustrate, briefly consider a book perhaps more familiar than any other, the printed Bible in the form that most people encounter today. Such a book is generally a collection of 66 or more ancient documents bound together in a single volume.
Note that the binding itself is significant; it is a paratext that conveys the message that these documents belong together, reinforced by uniform typography, page layout, and consecutive page numbering across the bound collection. But in terms of the text’s history, these paratexts potentially obscure the fact that the documents within were completed at various times over the course of 1,500 or more years by many authors who almost certainly did not envision that their work would be read alongside of these other works. Imagine the difference if, instead, these documents were each individually bound—perhaps 66 thin volumes arranged on a shelf. This is not unlike the arrangement of previous collections of biblical texts as collections of scrolls.
How then do paratextual messages change in a digital biblical text? Consider how the finality of a printed Bible is far less acute in its digital counterpart. One can hold a printed book—it is bound and not easily modified. A Bible app, on the other hand, is periodically updated with new features, corrections, etc. In short, the paratextual messages of a printed book and its digital counterpart are distinct.
Consider more along these lines in the following video I produced for CODEC’s recent MediaLit course.
By Dr Joshua Mann
Joshua Mann leads Expositus, a research and education 501(c)(3) nonprofit working in the area of digital humanities. Previously he was a Research Fellow at CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology at the University of Durham (UK). His work engages subjects in digital humanities and biblical studies. He blogs irregularly at https://josh.do.
Would you like to read more of Joshua’s thoughts about digital Bibles? You can download a free introduction to his ideas about the subject from Trove using this link: https://discipleshiptrove.com/view/store/CODEC-digital-bible-1
*portions of the above post were based on Joshua’s article, “Mobile Liturgy” in Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet. See here for further details.