The heart of the book is comprised of five chapters that each address a different digital liturgy. Here James means to help us understand both the content our technologies are preaching to us and the ideologies they are fostering within us. “The question is not, Is this technology shaping me right now? The question is, How is this technology shaping me right now?” And so he writes at some length about authenticity, outrage, shame, consumption, and meaninglessness—each of them a readily identifiable aspect of life online.
There are books you may be drawn to, but probably do not actually need to read. (Seriously, at some point you need to stop reading books about methods of prayer and just pray!) Then there are other books you may not be particularly drawn to but probably ought to read. Among these are books on technology, and especially the new digital technologies that have come to dominate our lives. I’d wager that your phone is in your hand at least several hours every day; I’d wager that you are on social media at least every few hours, often without even thinking about it; I’d wager that you communicate with others through your devices on a near-constant basis. Would it not be important to do some reading about these technologies, about how they are functioning in society and the church, and about how they may be quietly transforming you? What else could form such an important part of our lives yet receive so little attention?
Samuel James’ Digital Liturgies is meant to help you think about these technologies and the social internet they enable. For these are not harmless or inconsequential tools. Neither can they be exactly compared to any tools that we have previously experienced in human history, for they alone provide a “disembodied electronic environment that we enter through connected devices for the purpose of accessing information, relationships, and media that are not available to us in a physical format.” Our use of these technologies and our increasing immersion in them essentially brings us into a whole new kind of world in which we leave aside so much of what makes us who we are.
“Rather than being a neutral tool, the internet (particularly the social internet) is an epistemological environment—a spiritual and intellectual habitat—that creates in its members particular ways of thinking, feeling, and believing. It’s true in one sense that the web is a tool that responds to its users’ desires.