This morning at Meeting for Worship at the Friends Meeting of Brooklyn, I was thinking about how analog our worship services are. There's almost no modern technology involved at all except for electric lights and maybe an oscillating fan in the summer. There's no amplifier, microphones, television or computer monitors, or other digital technology found in more modern churches. A cell phone ringing during Meeting is the subject of intense embarassment for the offender.
This of course is in line with Quaker values of simplicity and modesty. Our manner of worship has continued almost unchanged for hundreds of years, which is our most stable tradition that binds us all as Friends despite our differences.
That said, modern Quakers have not totally rejected techology. (We're not Amish, after all.) While Quakers have been nearly invisible during the broadcast era, hundreds of us blog, podcast, tweet and Facebook "friend" each other. It's clear that the more broad-based, accessible digital tools of communication have been a better fit for the Quaker mode of expression and community-building.
Among the technologies that Quakers have experimented with that I know about:
Quaker oriented email lists have existed since the 90s, facilitating rich discussions, debates, and yes flamewars among Friends on all matter of subjects. My own Meeting in Brooklyn recently began a "Light List" for Friends to share requests to be held in the Light. Given many older Friends "digital immigrant" status, email seems the best means for reaching the broadest number of Quakers online.
The directory site Quaker.org lists hundreds of Quaker-oriented websites, from Monthly and Yearly Meetings to non-profits, historical sites, publishers, and businesses. Most of these are little more than Web 1.0 pamphlet-style websites that are very infrequently updated. That said, many people find out about Friends by doing a Google search and finding us on the Web.
A quick search of the podcast directory on iTunes reveals a few
Quaker-oriented podcasts, though most of which seem to not be active
now. Perhaps I should start a podcast that consists of 30 minutes of
There are many, many Quaker blogs out there that document the lives, musings and struggles of Friends from all over. Blogging in some ways can be seen as a modern translation of the traditional Quaker practice of journaling. I've gained enormous insight into how other Quakers approach their spirituality and the divine through reading their blogs.
Facebook lists hundreds of groups when you search for "Quaker," many of whom admittedly have little to nothing to do with the Religious Society of Friends. I.e. students groups from a historically Quaker-run college, people who love Quaker oatmeal, etc.
There is also an active Ning-powered social network called "Quaker Quaker" that has a great blog aggregator, twitter feed, discussion forums and photos and videos from a diverse range of Friends. Quaker Quaker is one of the best ways to get a quick snapshot of what issues and ideas are floating around the RSoF right now.
Finally, one of the most cutting edge Quaker communities can be found in the virtual world of Second Life. The Second Life Quaker Meeting has a weekly Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Business that gathers Friends from all over the world for a surprisingly centered period of worship. Active since 2007, this completely virtual Quaker community is the epitome for me of the challenges and opportunities for the RSoF in this new age. Accessible, for free, for anyone with a recent computer and broadband internet, this virtual meeting occurs every Saturday at 1pm EST on Sea Turtle Island (teleport link for Second Life users.)
So What Does It All Mean?
It seems to me that we are at a critical time for the future of the Religious Society of Friends. Will we continue to just limp along with aging and declining numbers of attenders and members at our local meetings, witnessing erroneous and incomplete public perceptions of who we are, and supporting public ministries that reach dozens when we could be helping tens of thousands? Or will be take hold of these modern means of communication and community building to spread our message to every hamlet and heart (and avatar) that seeks it?
I have no illusions about the limitations and challenges posed by these digital technologies. As we conduct more of our business and communications over these channels, we risk alienating an older generation of seekers and ignoring the millions on our planet without access to these media. These digital tools can never replace the simpler actions of a whispered encouragement in the ear of a friend, a hug for the hurting, or a meal served to the hungry.
That said, we must respond to what I see as the growing irrelevance of Quakers in our world.
I believe that together Friends as a Society can come up with a renewed vision of how to grow our community and impact the world positively using these digital tools. Combining our powerful testimonies, our incredible diversity, and our unending seeking of divine guidance, it seems to me that there is tremendous good that we can do in the world.
We are duty-bound to explore every avenue to be the change that we seek — even ones that are virtual.