Sisters to Siri
Technologies like the internet disrupt industries through the decentralization of information. Is the same true for religious institutions? That is a question I had in mind when I began my first assignment in Research Methods, a course within the University of Cincinnati Masters of Design program at DAAP. We were tasked with interviewing several members from different generations of our family about a topic of our choice so that we may discover associations across the participants. My subject was Catholicism (my family’s faith tradition) and how it has or has not been influenced by technologies across the different generations.
I won’t go into all of the details here, though I’m happy to discuss them if you’d like to meet for coffee or set up a phone call. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to highlight the process and share a few findings from my research.
The primary source of the research was telephone interviews (recorded with Rev, an app for the iPhone, and transcribed using Descript, an app for Mac OS). The talks covered the life experience of each interviewee. Stories ranged from being taught by a nun in an old rural schoolhouse, to using a virtual assistant (like Siri) to queue up Christian music in various places across the home (hence the name of the project, Sisters to Siri.) After the interviews were completed, I coded the transcripts. Coding is a way of organizing and quantifying qualitative data. The poster shown above and below was composed of the coding results.
In addition to the interviews, I conducted a literature review of articles and papers written about the relation between technologies and religion. The bibliography was extensive. I discovered that many people are thinking about and writing about the topic. Some of my newfound favorites are Jacques Ellul (Protestant) and Albert Borgmann (Catholic).
The literature review was also helpful in creating a timeline of the technological innovations that my family members experienced so far in their lifetimes. That way, I was able to correlate new developments in tech with new faith expressions in the family members that I interviewed. Which led to the key findings of my project (see underneath the image below).
One. Significant moments of transition and crisis created openings for new faith expressions learned and practiced via both digital and analog technologies.
Two. These moments and crises, where new expressions of faith are a result, happen within five years across the subjects. Interestingly, they occur after each person starts to use internet-connected tools to learn about or practice their faith.
Three. The internet, though, cannot take the sole responsibility for these new expressions because each person uses multiple forms of tech, both analog and digital.
Four. Initially, the assumption was that technologies (especially internet-connected) had caused a decline in religious practices. My literature review shows that the internet indeed has affected religions. However, of the people I talked to, a variety of technologies (including the internet) facilitate stronger connections to their faith practices.
Five. Lastly, each interviewee said that they were optimistic about tech and religion and shared that they are living better because of technologies, like the internet, in their lives. Still, all subjects shared concerns for how others and society as whole use tech (esp. Social Media).
I feel like I only have begun to understand the tip of the iceberg on this subject and look forward to investigating religion and tech more through the MDes program and beyond.