I am just back from the Philippines where I participated in the events surrounding the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists meetings. As noted earlier, that meant suspending activity on this blog for awhile. I had expected that the demands of the conference would make that true, but there were other issues worthy of reflection in a blog on the digital age.
Access: The South Sea Resort in Dumaguete City, Negros Island, did have high-speed wireless, but not always and not everywhere. There was occasional loss of service and what signal there was never did reach my room – a very nice room, by the way! And even when I went to the open air lobby, I found I could not access this blog site. I never did figure that one out. By the way, if you ever get a chance to visit, the setting of this inexpensive resort is lovely and the food outstanding. I have helped organize many conferences but never have I experienced one with not one single complaint about the food. Wow!
Culture: Visiting the Philippines was a good reminder that this discussion about the Digital Reformation really does belong to the developed world and largely – maybe even only, to North America. Shopping in Robinson’s, the giant mall in Manila, I found a whole raft of tech stores. While you could find computer equipment there, it was greatly overshadowed by photo, audio and video equipment and overwhelmingly overshadowed by mobile phone products. The developing world is dominated by mobile phone technology, probably a big reason why so many web designers are now looking at web 3.0, technologies that will deliver web sites effectively to mobiles. The template for this blog is such a technology, I am proud to say. Pride might be the wrong word, of course,…I just accidentally picked a template that was 3.0 ready. Check it out on your smartphone!
Culture, Part Two: It was more than just technology that was different. In the Philippines, church is more closely tied to community. Villages are not the kind of self-selecting communities we form in North America. Here, any one of us tends to participate in many ‘villages’, perhaps tied to work or a shared activity like sports or crafts or politics. Some of our villages have a neighbourhood quality to them, but most do not. Our villages tend to be permeable and fluid with changing membership and relatively weak bonds.
In the developing world, the village is more like a village of old. A UU church in the Philippines is often the center of its small baranquay or village. It is often geographically isolated from neighbouring communities separated by poor rutted dirt roads. While there is some public transportation, it is unreliable and infrequent. Villagers may well all work in the same cane fields or mango plantations for most of their lives. Only a few ever manage to leave for education or, perhaps, to work overseas. Relationships and kinship ties are generations deep along with subsistence living. Forget wireless. We’re talking about basic electricity and running water. The church may well be the only public meeting space within many kilometers.
The joy of an ICUU meeting is being able to chat with Unitarians from around the world. The Philippines situation is not so unusual. Much of Transylvania, though in much better economic straits, is still tied to this traditional idea of the village as well. The same is true in Africa. People in all these parts of the world may be experiencing change in their religious lives, but it’s different from what we see on this continent. I can’t be more exact than that, but perhaps it’s enough to note that our issues are rather more local than we might think.
Anyway, I just thought I would share a few reflections based on my incomplete experience before getting back to the main topic of this blog. Comments on your developing world experiences are most welcome, for I know I am just scratching the surface here.