Pros and Cons of Cyberspace
Is this move into digital media good or bad? There isn’t a simple answer, but I follow Marshall McLuhan’s dictum: the medium is the message. Every medium of communication shapes its content. None are neutral dispensers of information. Technologies are not tools; they create forms of life.
Information hurdles everywhere and at rapid rates. We have access to information practically everywhere, as our cell phones, laptops, and tablets go with us. Coordinating meetings may be merely a matter of exchanging a few texts. Lives have been saved through cell phone calls and text messages that were not available 20 years ago. Grandma can see her new grandchild minutes after his birth through FaceTime or Skype or Facebook video.
Cyberspace not only increases the amount of information available (textual and visual), it also increases and diversifies the means by which to receive and respond to information. I sent the hard copy text of my first several books through the mail to my publisher. Later, I sent in floppy disks (most of which are now decaying in landfills). For my magnum opus, Christian Apologetics (752 pages), I sent the entire manuscript electronically. You may guess which method I prefer. We may also interact quickly and publicly by posting comments on webpages, Facebook, Amazon, and other cyber outposts.
All of this may be summarized in one word: acceleration. The amount of information produced and distributed is accelerating. The means of receiving and receiving information are accelerating. The ways of interacting with information and people are accelerating. And the speed of all this is accelerating. Yet these marvels of acceleration are not without costs.
The Word became flesh in order to make the Father known. He was no hermit but lived among us, full of grace and truth. As John says:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1–4)
Cyberspace often reduces human interaction to information transfer. We may read something or see someone, but we are not with these people face to face. The apostle John lamented the loss of the human touch:
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (2 John 1:12)
Cyberspace accelerates the amount, speed, and interactivity of information. But personal contact—body language, environment, conviviality, liturgy—is too often left behind. I cannot take Communion online, nor can I improvise in the classroom with my students online.
As everything accelerates in cyberspace, life becomes frantic and cluttered as we strive to manage all the sources of all the diverse kinds of information we receive and give. We must keep up with the new cell phone, the new app, and the new video device. We become chronically exhausted while yet still hyperactive. This is not good for the soul, for society, or for the church. Our compassion can be dulled by the sheer volume of information and stimulation. As Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”