The Misinformation Age

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It's said that we are living in the Information Age. Similar to the Industrial Revolution that brought about the Industrial Age and changed society forever, the Digital Revolution has led us into the Information Age. But I see as much misinformation as I do information.

I remember growing up hearing about all the ills of society that technology and progress would solve, all the ways it would make life easier, more convenient, more connected, more exciting, safer, more secure; on and on the benefits went. I found this a bit baffling. Everyone seemed to assume that people would somehow change with technology.

But things certainly haven't turned out entirely positive. There have been some real advantages, but there have been serious problems that have been overlooked, both in the church and in society at large.

The church seemed to be caught up in the excitement, and largely failed to anticipate some of the dangers. Pornography has now ravaged the church, thanks to its easy access on the internet. And while I don't have any direct evidence, Christians probably spend significantly less time reading their bibles these days than fifty years ago. Or even twenty. This is due in large part to the truly ludicrous amount of entertainment that we have at our disposal.

Perhaps the simplest example of the church failing to see the dangers of technology is church websites. Church websites used to be fairly rare; they're now ubiquitous. No harm in that, right? Not necessarily, but consider this: a few years ago church websites overtook pornographic websites as being the most likely to contain malware. Now, obviously, these churches aren't planting malware to torment their congregation or any other visitors. The malware is coming from the outside, because the websites are insecure, and the coding is often fairly sloppy. (Does this remind anyone of Matthew 10:16? "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."] Proper understanding has not been given to the design of these websites, and churches come off as rather naive.

This is not to say that the church has been sitting on its hands when it comes to technology. The growth of solid Christian websites and online resources, the availability of sermon audio, great Christian podcasts, and the fact that we can have the Bible in our pocket has been a huge blessing to me and to many other Christians. So, when the church has realized the potential for good in technology, the results are wonderful. But it often overlooks the potential for evil.

And it's not just the church, but society as a whole. Online shopping is all the rage. So is online scamming and the mass theft of financial information. Sure, Blue Shield made it more convenient to store everything electronically for me (without my say in the matter), but it was rather inconvenient for me when they then practically gift-wrapped my personal information for hackers by storing it all in PlainText.

There's also the massive invasion of privacy due in large part to social media and smartphones (and then there's the NSA, but that's simply too depressing for me to delve into). What I have found most amazing about social media and the use of smartphones is the we have willingly given away our privacy just for sake of entertainment and "connectedness." The amount of personal information we have made available to Facebook, Google, and thousands of apps is simply astounding. There are apps that have access to the contacts, texts, emails, camera, and microphone on our phones, and we just assumed the coders on the other end of the app will be completely ethical with that sort of power.

Then there's the ever-increasing rate at which news stories break. Except now the information is becoming more and more inaccurate, and no one is being held accountable. Frankly, hardly anyone even bothers to confirm whether a story is accurate or not. It just catches fire on Twitter and that's it-- too late to back out. The story is then stamped on our collective consciousness without a shred of reliable information. Wikipedia is one of the out-workings of the digital revolution that I have been more a fan of than not, but even it has its faults. Look up any contentious issue having to do with theology, ethics, philosophy, and politics, and you'll probably find the Wikipedia article is laced with bias. It's often rather distressing. It's also interesting to watch society's views on a subject change at the influence of relatively few. As long as society is bashed in the face with it enough times, opinion shifts.

So where does this all leave us? What are we to make of it?

I think the most obvious conclusion is that technology is in some ways dangerous. It has great benefits, but it can be abused. The root problem, though, is not technology itself. The problem is that we are all still people. We are still sinners. Technology has not changed that. It has simply put a megaphone to what was already obvious, and we somehow overlooked it. Sure, technology has made significant improvements to our lives. But somehow we all overlooked that fact that this same technology could be abused to steal information, ruin lives and reputations, invade privacy, cause physical harm, cause major threats to personal and national security, deceive, manipulate, and betray.

I once heard Ian Leitch, pastor and evangelist from Scotland, comment on technology, and our fascination with it. He claimed that technology is essentially amoral. It is neither good nor bad. It's what we do with it that makes a difference. As he put it, if anything technology only increases our potential for good and evil. I tend to agree with him.

Technology has further revealed our hearts, and it's a pretty ugly view. After all these great advancements, we're still sinners. Behold, there is nothing new under the sun. Let us hope and pray that the Christian church learns from these last few difficult decades, and proceeds forward with discernment and wisdom.
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