Tuesday, October 22, 2013
The Ocean of the Internet
One thing about the history of mankind. Men have always been fascinated with the sea. They have dared to put their small skiffs only to see them capsized by a wave. They have learned to build bigger sturdier ships travel and fish on the ocean. And now ships can take passengers who don't know how to sail themselves. The ocean calls out to our sense of adventure.
But while the sea is wonderful, it is also terrible. When you set out to sea, you are surrounded by the ocean and land seems far away. For awhile, it seems like the sea is our whole world. The ocean is choppy with waves coming from all directions and crash into each other as well as into you. Storms can suddenly appear, forcing you to batten down the hatches. Or you can become becalmed and slowly eat up your resources not knowing when the winds and waves will help you again.
The sea is beautiful but also dangerous. One can find delicious fish to eat or use for perfume. But you could also run into a great shark or a giant squid and get thrown over and attacked. The sea is not useful generally for survival. You can't even drink the water. If you are thrown over or sinking, there's no one else to help you. You can even become mystified by the compelling power of the ocean, even though you know better, and begin to act as if the whole world was covered by the sea since that is all you see and despair of ever finding land and home again.
Not many of us get to sail the sea but today we have a way for everyone to have access to the experience of feeling like you're at sea - and that's called the internet. Moreover, in our society, everyone will be forced into the internet to meet basic needs for education and career. But kids will naturally and spontaneously seek out the internet. We might say kids today are born into the internet like fish, just as we were born into the world of television and telephones.
But the internet is an immersive experience, flooding you with more data than you process. A recent figure I read said that the average kid's daily intake of information from the internet was equal to more than 8,100 song lyrics. But further this data is an incoherent mass of diverse opinions from all over the world without any principled arbitration. If someone had come up with a machine to download data directly into a young mind so that it is irresistibly led to skepticism and relativism, it's hard to imagine one that could be more effective than the internet. Also, the internet is wild. There is no regulation of it. You will be exposed to dangerous images and ideas and addictive pastimes sooner rather than later. The internet is like the sea.
But one cannot simply forbid the attempt to explore the sea. But if you do, there are some things to keep in mind.
(1) The most important skills for surviving and succeeding on the sea are learned on land. These include nautical skills but the also include deeper habits such as compassion, courage, and especially faith and hope. The sea is lawless and that is why it is especially attractive to people who are lawless. But in lawless places where we cannot appeal to an external law enforcer we can still be the dirt if people whose lives embody the law in our virtue and character. But character must be acquired in the laboratories of character - the home, the neighborhood, the church. Once those graces become second nature, they will serve you well in the great "out there".
(2) While at sea, no one is guided by the sea. They know there is nothing solid about the sea. Instead, they look to the stars. The stars are fixed in their courses and provide a fixed map such that a sailor steer their course aright. When in the world of the internet, it is also important to have fixed reference points that are other than the internet. Such reference points are the great traditions and thinkers that have proven their reliability over time by already having faced and survived harsh experiences and questions. Many ideas have already proven themselves by this point and can serve to help you navigate the internet and sort the wheat from the chaff.
Just as the sun is supreme among the stars, so is Scripture among the traditions. The Bible was not born yesterday and has survived and thrived even more severe tests than others, and over several fresh rounds, including the present moment, in its claim to be God's own Word. And even now, it is still speaking afresh into the present as anyone who will look may see. And the situation created by the internet reminds us yet again why there must be a norm of norms. The Bible is the sun around which all the other stars find their orbits. It will be a sure guide on the internet sea.
(3) Finally, when things go wrong on the sea, the sea cannot repair them. Remember, if your boat springs a leak - and it will - the only things that will help you fix the leak are the things you bring on the boat with you. If that fails you can always fix the leak by removing and using another piece of the boat. Thus, your boat can stay afloat by repairing itself with itself. By the same token, if your beliefs are shaken by something on the internet, you can introduce a temporary ad hoc explanation that will serve until you can bring yourself back to shore for a substantial repair. The alternative is to be lost at sea. But as long as your beliefs were originally well founded (and the policy of "innocent until proven guilty" is appropriate here) then to be obstinate in belief in the face of apparent difficulties is a virtue rather than a fault. On the other hand, the policy of abandoning ship at the first sign of leaks is not prudent. This obstinacy is better understood as a mode of humility rather than pride.
And so the internet is like the sea. Don't forget to pray for those who become lost at sea, more and more every day.