Internet Anonymity, Like Fig Leaves and AA, Can Be a Means of Grace

There has been quite a bit of recent discussion asking how “real” Internet community is. However, for me, it’s more helpful to ask, “What kind of community is the Internet distinctly good at creating?” One answer is that the Internet is good at fostering anonymity.

Of course, we all know that anonymity can have a very negative impact on a person and their actions, but it can also be a very powerful tool for certain kinds of ministry. The following video about Tim Kimberley, a pastor in Portland, OR who runs helives.com is a great example:

Tim, who is also a dear friend of mine, says,

There are many people who feel more comfortable behind their keyboard than behind a pew. The Internet seems like such an anonymous place. It seems like such a place where people can pretend whoever they’re going to be. What we found, especially with teenagers is that online a teenagers has no reason to lie.

They’re anonymous in the identity, but they’re not anonymous in their heart. And so we had teenagers say things to us that are so raw . I would think to myself, ‘A teenager would never walk up to me in church and ask me what they just asked me.’

With helives.com, Tim has harnessed Internet anonymity and used it to create a healing environment for teens.

Continue reading Internet Anonymity, Like Fig Leaves and AA, Can Be a Means of Grace

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Better Off by Eric BrendeBetter Off (2005, Harper Perennial) is probably the most clever title of any technology book I’ve read.

The book is Eric Brende’s retelling of his 18 months living with a lo-tech Mennonite-like community as part of his graduate work in MIT’s STS Program which studies the influence of technology on society. What makes the book so fun is that its not an abstract work full of theories and technical terms, but instead tells a fascinating true story of a family’s attempt to draw closer together by turning off our super connected world. Continue reading Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Facebook and Video Chat predicted 100 years ago! [Recommended Reading]

image If you like reading short stories, I’ve got a great one for you. In 1909, E. M. Forster published the short story The Machine Stops which told of a future in which humans live in temperature-controlled underground rooms with no outside human contact, communicating to others exclusively using“cinematophoes” (his prediction of video conferencing).

The story was written

  • before TVs and computers, just after the first radios
  • before dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioning, universal electrical lighting, and fast food
  • before cars were mainstream, just after the Wright brothers’ flight

He predicts

  • people having 1000s of “friends” that they never see in person (including family), only on a screen
  • people eating processed foods and loosing physical strength
  • people feeling totally overloaded by the sheer amount of communication they receive every day
  • the total, unquestioning acceptance of technology by society and the rejection of original thought

The story is a fascinating look at what would happen if society got to a point where people could only relate to one another through some kind of technology (bonus for alluding to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and foreshadowing everything from Brave New World to The Matrix to Wall-E). The story focuses on a mother and son’s relationship, and it’s was a little eerie to me because my mom also lives lives far away, and we mostly communicate through phone calls, email, facebook, etc. Thankfully my mom loves to visit and would never prefer the virtual world over the real world.

Though the author is not writing as a Christian, he seems to understand that the fullness of human relationship and being happens in the physical world, the world into which the Son of God incarnated himself. Technological mediums are great for enabling relationships when one can’t be physically present, but we need to careful that it doesn’t replace real-life contact. Not only does it erode our relationships, it ultimately can erode what we are as humans. Yikes!

If you get a chance to read the story let me know what you think.

Ways of Thinking About Technology

image Two recent blog posts, one from Paul and Timothy Bible Conference the other from Justin Buzzard’s Buzzard Blog
offer some helpful thoughts about social networking. The conclusions
and recommendations are excellent, and I think there is room for developing a model for getting to these kinds of conclusions.

(Similarly, there has been a recent discussion of the pros and cons of Twitter at Christ and Pop Culture and a response by Owen Strachan.)

“This Can Be Used for…” Thinking

The
main idea in both articles is that “Facebook can be bad but, if used
properly, Facebook can also be a force for good.” Both authors offer
helpful lists of possible good and bad uses of Facebook. Buzzard’s is
very practical while P&T seems to be more high level. I think these
are the kinds of excellent conclusions and recommendations that we need to be
talking about in the church.

However, somtimes this kind of discussion can be a bit misleading. It has the possibility of making someone assume that because something “can be used for good” it automatically should. That can leave a reader or listener to think that we should primarly evaluate
technology on the basis of morality and usefulness. Buzzard writes,

Technology
(most, not all) is neutral and can be used for good or ill… Internet …
Dispense truth or porn… Approach technology with this lens: neutral,
good or ill.

Here, he means that technology is morally neutral. Buzzard's full presentation goes beyond this idea though to say that facebook itself is not really neutral and that it can have some effects on us just by using it.

Facebook and online life can make you more distracted, changes how you think/attention span (Buzzard)

Buzzard recognizes that Facebook itself – not just how it is used, but that it is used – tends toward distraction. This means that while Facebook may be morally neutral, it is not inherently neutral. This is an excellent way of thinking about a technology like facebook, and I think Buzzard has made some major strides in that direction.

“How Will this Technology Change Me?” Thinking

Instead
of limiting our thinking about technology to the possible moral ends,
we need to think of technology in terms of what it
demands of us and how it will influence us whether it is used for good
or bad ends.

In other words, when we evaluate a technology we need to begin, not on moral grounds or with possible good or bad ends, but with its inherent effects on us. Then we need to compare those influences to our theology of Christian Spirituality and Mission.

A Model for Theological Reflection on Technology

  1. Nature of the Technology
    – Start by asking questions like, What does this technology inherently
    demand of me? What influence will it have on me? How does it affect my
    thinking, my relating, my day-to-day actions?
  2. Theological Grounding
    Ensure that you your theology is robust and well thought out in the
    following areas: What is a human? What is a human relationship? What is
    way of being and doing for which God has made us?
  3. Theological/Technological

The Newest “Digital Native”

Here is my awesome new son (Benjamin) on his second day in the hospital.

DSC_0183

This picture is significant, first because my son is awesome, and second because he will grow up in a world where things like iPhones are commonplace. For me, the internet came into full swing in high school. For him, the formation of the internet will be something about which he'll learn as history. He will never know the world without it.

My parents grew up in a largely static technological environment
with no major technological shifts from the 40s through 60s. I am
maturing in an ever changing technological environment, accreting new
technologies each year. My little son will grow up with all of these technologies already in place – a world very
different mine or his grandparents.

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

To describe this phenomenon, Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” in a magazine called Educational Leadership. He used to term to describe the current generation of children whose lives started after the internet age began. They are natives in the digital world, whereas we who entered the digital world later in life are “digital immigrants.” Prensky summarized what this means,

Our students are no longer “little versions of us,” as they may have been in the past. In fact, they are so different from us that we can no longer use either our 20th century knowledge or our training as a guide to what is best for them educationally.

Certainly, this is an interesting subject for general educators, but for today’s theological educators it is more than interesting – it must be an essential part of our concepts of humanity, the body of Christ, and the transmission of the Gospel.

Two Theological Issues

As I see, it there are (at least) two major issues related to the digital native vs. digital immigrant divide.

  1. Theology of the Word – The term the “word of God” is used throughout Scripture, but it tends refers mainly to the person of Christ and God’s communication to us (ironically, the biblical authors do not use the term “word of God” to refer to Scripture). Since the digital age modifies how we understand communication, the idea of “word” will need to be reexamined by both natives and immigrants.
  2. Theology of Relationality – The “image of God” means, at least in part, that humans are relational beings. In the digital age, many relationships are mediated by some form of technology, meaning that digital natives will understand “it is not good for humankind to be alone” differently than digital immigrants. For our churches to function as the “Body of Christ” we will need to be aware of how technology may separate the right hand from the left.