Church 2063: The Internet

photo credit: The Next Web via photopin cc

If in 1963, I told you that in the next thirty to fifty years computers would not only be so small that everyone would have one, but that we’d rewire the world with data cables that made it possible to connect millions of personal computers together into a single network that would be used for every form of communication imaginable, you’d have thought that I was crazy.

Surely something so large must be owned by General Electric or IBM, right? The long distance companies and USPS couldn’t stand for something that so cuts into their businesses, right? Even if television could be put on this network, there would only be a few more stations than there are in 1963, right?

Of course, we know the answer to all these questions is a large NOPE. The internet has changed all of these industries and will continue to change countless more. I can’t imagine that the innovation sparked by this invention won’t continue.

The network itself is likely to change, though. The world wide web may or may not be the dominant protocol as it is today. When I first got online most people were using Gopherspace. I also dabbled in Usenet back then. I remember logging into AOL to get my first view of the web as a graphical experience and not as the text-based thing I was unimpressed by.

I remember downloading a pixelated video of an ad from Usenet over my 9600 baud connection to my college’s mainframe in 1995. It took all day at that speed to get a video that today would be embedded in a website. Back then it was magical to imagine that I could get video that way.

I remember not being able to quite imagine an always on connection. I was trying to figure out how VOIP (voice over internet protocol) systems would work and thought they’d be impractical because of the having to have your phone line tied up all the time so that you could use it. How things have changed!

Now, I’m on the edge of abandoning cellular altogether to just do everything — texting, calls, video calls, and data over a single wireless internet connection that I carry around with me using a phone or laptop as my parent used wired telephones to access the telephone network in decades past.

This idea is certainly a harbinger of the future. Cell minutes, and voip traffic are all just bits to the internet. Why should I buy 1500 of one each month when I can get an unlimited supply of the other for less money? The wireless carriers want us to believe that there is scarcity. I think that innovation will prove that a lie.

I envision a future where everything that can be online is. Metered bandwidth will be a thing of the past as it becomes a commodity. More and more technologies will make room for more competition and we’ll wonder how we went camping or flew without internet as we now wonder how we did business without it.

Imagine if bandwidth and connection speeds made data location irrelevant. Right now, I can watch a large number of movies and TV shows on Hulu and Netflix. I think that eventually all information we have as a species will be available to every person so quickly that it will seem as though it’s all stored locally.

Have a paper due on Shakespeare tomorrow? No problem, just watch any performance ever captured on film or video, compare and contrast the Royal Shakespeare company to Shakespeare in the Park and you have a masters’ thesis in a few short hours.

For people like myself, who create content, the easy and free availability of everything to everyone might seem like a problem, but I think the scarcity of me personally, provides a business model. Think of it this way: I can watch every concert that Elvis or the Beatles ever played, but that’s not the same as being at one. It’s similar, but not the same.

The Church must be intellectually honest about what we believe in this world. You might think that it’s the case that we are, but recent history has proven that it’s not always true. Whether it’s the scandal of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church or cases like Jim Bakker misusing funds from his ministry, the Church is still made up of people who don’t always choose well. We need to make sure that these mistakes come out early and that they’re dealt with honestly.

A world where all information is available is one where nothing is easily hidden. If the foundations of your ministry are built on lies, those lies will come out. Transparency is the only remedy for mistakes. Sweeping them under the rug will no longer work as it once did.

Society as a whole will deal with this as well. The Wikileaks scandal of a few years ago will likely be the first, not the last, time that government secrets come out when governments prefer that they don’t. Corporations have even more to fear as reasons for decisions see the light of day for the first time. No one will be immune from the light of truth.

It’s particularly troubling to me as the father of girls who will be more fluent than I in the use of the internet that the mistakes they make in High School and college could haunt them for years to come.

In ten or twenty years, we might have to face what happens when you can find pictures of nearly every politician from his or her youth, in the midst of some indiscretion. What happens when a presidential candidate in 2043 says, “I didn’t inhale,” but we have pictures of him on FaceBook with the caption, “Look, I inhaled” proudly written underneath?

Will society learn to forgive the fact that the most powerful people in the world have feet of clay just as we all do? Will the Church use this as an opportunity for judgmentalism or grace? Will we continue down the road of screaming about how horrible a sinner “you” are without acknowledging the mistakes we’ve made?

I hope that as the mask of false pretense is ripped away by more and more information about us all, we’ll quit pretending that we have it all figured out. I hope we’ll come into that world with the message that we’re all messed up and that only Jesus can rescue us from it.

It could be that this generation learns from what their parents say and doesn’t record the things that they’ll regret for years to come. I can be optimistic, can’t I?

I’ve lived a fairly tame life, but I still have things I’d rather my grandmother never knew about, mistakes or lapses in judgment. The challenge for the Church is that while we would hope that fewer and fewer people would make those mistakes, a lot will. When these moments are recorded forever and immediately available to everyone, how will we respond? I hope it will be grace, not judgement.



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