Friday, October 16, 2015

What Is the Internet Really Doing To Us?

My daughter recently referred me to a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.[1] In it he explains in great detail -- most of the time over my head -- how the act of using the Internet is changing how our brains process and store information. He begins with the warning that, by clicking through distractedly on links and videos while reading on the Net, we are losing our capacity to retain knowledge in our long term memories. In this way, he maintains, losing our ability to concentrate derails the process for memory storage.

However, the author doesn't conclude his research by saying we are all going to lose our ability to remember, but rather predicts that we humans are in danger of losing our ability to feel emotions and empathize with others, that we will one day become like the computers with which we are now interacting, that we will lose our humanness.

First of all, it must be taken into consideration this man is an evolutionist whose premise is that we adapt to our environment with no control over what we become as we helplessly succumb to our lower natures. He assumes we will always choose what is easy and pleasurable and will eventually become mind-numbed robots with no emotions or empathy.

Conversely, looking at it from a Christian perspective, I would say it is impossible to lose our humanness. However, we may become like beasts by giving in to our carnal desires, but we will then only become beastly humans.[2] We are already born with the potential to become that way. Computers only offer more opportunities for carrying out our lusts for ease and pleasure.

You could fit a lot of desensitized perverts in this place.
Some may argue, however, that we become desensitized to evil by familiarity with it. Yet, that has been true all throughout history. How else could you explain ancient Romans finding entertainment in watching gladiators literally fight to the death right before their very eyes? I am not sure our society has gotten to that point yet, but I'm afraid we are well on our way. We have gone from violent movies to violent games where we can actively participate in virtually killing someone ourselves. If you are so inclined, you can even access video footage of people killing each other for real! While few of us would stand around and watch men murdering one another in the street, some think nothing of watching it on their phones while waiting at the doctor's office.

Consequently, the privacy of personal computers and handheld devices connected to the Internet have even taken the restraints of public shame and accountability out of the mix. Why were we so surprised by the caliber of men who were exposed by the Ashley Madison scandal? Some of these were not only professed Christians but ultra-conservative, standing-up-for-godly-marriage preachers. The secrecy and the ability to access evil without getting caught (so they thought) were too much for them.

Yet, let she who is without sin cast the first stone. How many of us can say our browsing history is 100% pure as the driven snow? It doesn't even have to be intentional. The very fact of our humanness means we are curious, and the Net offers unlimited opportunities to explore places we wouldn't be caught dead in the real world. However, the temptation of natural curiosity itself, especially when we are bored, can eventually lead us from virtual sin into actual sin, both of which we are accountable before God. THAT is the real danger of the Internet, not that we devolve into inhuman machines but that we ascend unhindered into god status, knowing all, seeing all, and acting out our sovereign wills, albeit in a virtual way.

You know what curiosity did for the cat! :/
Unfortunately, unless tamed and bridled by the renewing influence and power of the Holy Spirit, any human being in his heart of hearts desires to be like God. Thankfully, our Creator uses the restraints of our authorities, such as parents and police officers, and even some social mores to shame us into not completely indulging our carnal designs. However, the danger of popular opinion through consensus fueled by social media is quickly breaking down even those restraints to the point where the only rule our society may submit to in the future is MOB RULE. And, it is easy to see we are getting closer to that all the time.

Interestingly, this brings the situation at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 to mind. God's concern for the human race at that time was "the people is one, and they all have one language..." And, what was the danger of being all of one mind and language? "...Now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." (Genesis 11:6)

Therefore, God in His mercy, rather than destroying nearly all of them as He did in the Flood, simply confused their language, effectively halting their scheme to collectively be like God. He divided and conquered them for their own good. Of course, I'm not the first to see the Internet as a resurrected Babel; anyone can see that. And so, there is this apprehension of what we humans might imagine to do now that the restraints of confused language and dispersion have once again been removed.

"Confusion of Tongues" by Gustave Doré
Even today, many doomsday prophesies include something about the destruction of the electrical grids, which would knock out the computers and the Internet, ending life as we know it and plunging us literally into the Dark Ages. Perhaps they see it as a way of God once again confusing our language and dispersing us, knowing in their hearts this is what we both need and deserve.

However, I don't believe this is how the Bible says the world will end. I believe we will continue to build our Tower of Babel, continuing to "wax worse and worse," until the earth is once again "filled with violence" as it was in the days of Noah when every imagination of the thoughts of [man's] heart was only evil continually." Then, "in such an hour as [we] think not," "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" and, like Noah's Flood, sudden destruction will come upon all who have not made their peace with God through the sacrifice of His Son. Then there will be a "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."[3]

I don't know if there will be electricity and Internet usage in that new heavens and earth, but I sort of doubt it. In fact, I'm looking forward to it. But, though we will no longer desire the numbing effects of continual entertainment, we won't have any further opportunities to spread the Gospel by this medium either. Now is the time to persuade men to be reconciled to their God, and I am afraid we don't have much time left. Therefore, let us use every means possible to share the good news of Christ, including the Internet, "redeeming the time because the days ARE evil."[4]

[1] Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010).
[2] 2 Peter 2:12
[3] References from 2 Timothy 3:13; Genesis 6:11; Genesis 6:5; Matthew 24:44; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; Matthew 24:39; 2 Peter 3:13, respectively.
[4] Ephesians 5:16