Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Warped Wide Web

[This is the 4th of 5 posts in this series]

As early as 1880, Alexander Graham Bell succeeded in reflecting light off a vibrating mirror to send a signal to a distant receiver. The idea of sending messages on a beam of light was an interesting but impractical innovation that faded into oblivion behind the success of radio and microwave communication. But in 1970, Donald Keck, Robert Maurer and Peter Schultz successfully transmitted light down a fused silica strand of the world’s purest glass.* These three scientists had invented the first fiber optic cable. The information carrying capacity of their invention was literally earth shattering. Today a single pound of fiber optic cable is capable of transmitting a volume of information that would otherwise require two metric tons of copper wire. In the thirty years since their breakthrough, more than thirty million kilometers of fiber optic cable have been deployed around the world. With that deployment, the high-bandwidth, lightning-fast Internet, capable of broadcasting audio, video and computer data, was born.*

Information is what drives the modern world. But raw information disconnected from context is dangerous. The receipt of information without reference to any social or intellectual function it might serve generates mere novelty, a fragmented collage of the sensational and impersonal. The Internet generates a sea of such decontextualized information that is perfectly capable of traveling around the globe unfettered by any effort to verify, explain or analyze it.* Devoid of checks and balances, and unhinged from any accountability to the truth, a flood of such information is available to us at the click of a button.

But information does not entail knowledge. And if properly functioning knowledge is wisdom, we should be highly suspect of the Internet’s ability to offer us either. Christianity’s distinctiveness from the world relies on the value it places on truth and the knowledge and wisdom that can be gained from it. Christians must realize that they are no less susceptible to this misinformation and lack of wisdom than the world around them. Fifty percent of households have Internet access in their homes, compared to forty eight percent among born again Christians.* The focus of the church is almost always on the content of the Internet. But it must also beware that, like television, the Internet offers subtle, but no less dangerous, ramifications from its use.

Fiber optics allows us to view information with stunning detail and an authoritative presentation that implies credibility where there may be none – and interpersonal communication where none really exists. The ubiquity of such information, and effortless access to it, has shrunk our world to the point that we can "experience" nearly anything we desire without ever leaving our desk. We can: shop for supplies, sell our possessions, buy products that arrive at our doorsteps within hours, contribute to charitable causes, earn college diplomas, carry on conversations stripped of body language, make "friends," destroy our marriages and families by falling in love and arranging sexual liaisons; all without any form of actual human contact. This ability is not just unique to our time, and not just possible because of technology, it is a capacity that would never have been conceivable without it. And it is completely antithetical to the Biblical concept of a human person.

Within the doctrine of the Trinity, and as consummated on the day Adam received his helper, the social dimension of the person is unique to our design. Yet the Internet allows us to bypass it at our will. Anonymity not only shuns accountability, it permits both an unchecked retreat into the dark corners of the corrupted human self, and the denial of reality concerning personhood. The Internet cannot be solely blamed for the tendency of man to withdraw into himself, but it is a devastatingly proficient modern vehicle for accelerating that inclination. Marriages, families and congregations of believers all suffer from the damaging effects of a technology driven mindset that cultivates an injured and isolated human soul.

{Juran, 42}
{Donald B. Keck. “Optical Fiber Spans 30 Years.” LightWave Special Reports, July, 2000}
{Postman, 65-70. Though his discussion here is in reference to the birth of telegraphy, the concepts he touches on are just as relevant, and even more far-reaching, with regard to the Internet.}
{Barna Research Group – 2000 Survey}

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