Monday 26 October 2009

Having the 'right' heart for the Internet

The Internet and new communication technology have had a huge impact on our world. Just like any new technology it is easy to see advantages and problems. Any criticism of the Internet will evoke strong defence because of the many wonderful things that it offers; it is easy to love the Internet. But there will be just as many people who will point to the obvious problems we can identify with its use - misuse of social networks to bully and deceive, online gambling addictions, crime and abuse to name just a few. But it also brings many blessings and opportunities: improved communication between isolated loved ones; a means to bring political accountability and action as occurred with the use of Twitter to monitor the 2009 elections in Zimbabwe; use of mobile phones to enable rescues and prevent crimes; access to information and knowledge at the 'click' of a key; new ways to share biblical truth in varied languages and so on.

In recent weeks in Australia we saw a dramatic rescue of two girls in Adelaide aged 10 and 12. While trapped in a stormwater drain they were able to update their Facebook pages using mobile phones, leading to their rescue (here). Once again, this demonstrates that new technology isn't necessarily the problem it's what we do with it that matters and the hearts and minds that drive our use of technology.

Case magazine focussed on technology in 2008 with an issue that had the theme 'Communication, Cyberspace and Community'. In my contribution to the issue, 'Truth and the Internet', I made the comment:

"The Internet like other tools is simply a means to understand the world. Like other tools it is used as an extension of, and as part of, cultural groups (e.g. the family, school, church etc). It is in such groups that we learn how to use psychological and material tools. Much of this occurs with no formal instruction as children from birth learn through interaction with others. The tools we use reflect the culture in which we live and are applied as we interact with and the cultural groups within which we live mediate our thoughts and actions."

But while the work of great psychologists like Vygotsky remind us that the Internet is just a tool, any tool can be misused. I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that I have serious worries about the way we use the Internet - and I include myself in the 'we'! I love the Internet but I recognise that I need to use it responsibly. John Smuts from Petersham Baptist Church made this point well in a helpful sermon on Sunday on the Christian and culture and motivated this post. The Bible offers knowledge and wisdom that takes us to the next step, providing us with the guidance that we need to use tools like the Internet wisely. Day by day I need to be thinking about the way I use the Internet and the motives that drive my use:
I need to be careful that I don't use email instead of face-to-face communication.
I need to guard my words and my motives online.
I need to avoid presenting a different and false persona to my virtual world than to the one where people observe me face-to-face (Roberta Kwan's article in Case #18 - 'Name Unknown: Anonymity in the City' is relevant here).
I need to make sure that I don't rob my God, my family or even my employer (see previous post on this here) of the time that I owe to them.
I need to ensure that I observe ethical principles in how I use Internet resources, not stealing that which I should purchase.
I need to avoid becoming addicted to social network sites, online shopping, twitter or blogging.
I need to be an example to others of how best to use the Internet.
Paul's letter to the Philippian church are helpful in offering us a starting point for handling the Internet well. He stresses the importance of our minds as drivers of our actions. At a general level he commends the Philippians to be conscious that their relationships in life are driven by their minds: "Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil 1:27). Be "of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Phil 2:2). "Have this mind among yourself, which is yours in Christ Jesus" - a mind centred on Christ that leads to humility, servanthood and sacrifice (Phil 2:5-8). God is concerned about our minds and what we do with them.

Tools like the Internet can be used for good and evil; for their use reflects the state of human minds. Paul underscores this for his readers later in the letter when he commends them to be concerned about their minds, for he knew that it is the focus of one's mind that dictates what Christ's followers do with their lives. Our minds shape our actions, our priorities and our passions.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:8-9)
Jesus also taught that it was from within us that our actions are shaped. He spoke of the 'heart' as the shaper of actions.
And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mark 7:21-23)
The lesson is simple. The Internet isn't the problem; it's sin that can drive us to use it in ways that are not for our good. Furthermore, our use of it is shaped by our minds (or 'hearts'). Of course, this doesn't mean that we should be blind to the potential challenges of using the Internet. Like anything that can cause harm, not simply be used for the good, we need to be cautious and make wise decisions about how we use it. It may well be that if we cannot use the Internet wisely that we need to build greater accountability into our own lives and also for our children.

Related Posts & Links

'The Soul in Cyberspace: Wisdom from Groothius' (here)
'Is the Internet Dumbing us Down? 2 Rite' (here)
'Truth and the Internet 2' (here)
'Communication, Cyberspace & Community' (here)
'Writing, Communication Technology & Relationships' (here)

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