Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Digital Age

A friend recently introduced me to this quote from Peter Leyden:

We are living through an extraordinary moment in human history. Historians will look back on our times, the 40-year span between 1980 and 2020, and classify it among the handful of historical moments when humans reorganized their entire civilization around a new tool, a new idea. These decades mark the transition from the Industrial Age, an era organized around the motor, to the Digital Age, an era defined by the microprocessor … [a] defining moment when society recognized the enormity of the changes taking place and began to reorient itself.”

I have been part of an online group of ministers for the last several weeks that has been discussing the implications of the Digital Age for the church—especially a five generation church that includes people with three worldviews (print, broadcast, and digital). Here are a few things that have come to mind for me.

First, what does it mean to be a “gatekeeper” in an era when information is readily available? The pastor or the minister of education is no longer the “content expert” when it comes to curriculum, missions education materials, and worship resources. All of these are readily available on the Internet. This does not mean that the experience of one educated about these things is no longer needed, but it does mean that person is no longer a gatekeeper as much as a trusted guide.

Second, and somewhat related to the first, what is the meaning of proprietary information (copyrighted content, for example) when media can be quickly and accurately reproduced with a key stroke? If people are to receive some compensation for their work (writers, researchers, composers), how can this be assured in the digital age when material is so easily transferred?

Third, what is the meaning of relationships in the Digital Age? I have amassed a goodly number of “friends” through Facebook—current acquaintances, former students, professional colleagues—and have enjoyed reconnecting with them. I even have the opportunity to offer a word of encouragement to some of them from time to time. But how deep and meaningful are these connections?

Fourth, is the Digital Age perpetuating and widening a cultural divide between the haves and the have-nots? Are some people cut out of this dialogue because they do not have the resources to participate? Should Christians be encouraging this separation?

Fifth, how does the Digital Age change our way of understanding reality? How does it change our perceptions of the world, people, and the church?

Perhaps all of these are questions related to morality. They deal with issues of honesty, integrity, authority, and caring. Certainly the Bible and our Christian faith speak to these issues in any age. The challenge that we face is making appropriate application.


LCR said...


You raise some interesting questions. I think that you and I are antitypical of our generation in that we have, at least, attempted to embrace this digital phenomenon. A couple of years ago we were trying to get information out to the 1965 graduating class about our 40th reunion. We discovered that out of a graduating class of 250 there were less than 40 with email addresses.
You asked, “How does the digital age change our understanding of reality?” Kids who grew up in front of the computer playing video games justified the violence of those games by saying, “It isn’t real. It is just a game.” I am afraid that is the same way most approach the computer today, from adults who view porn, to kids who post disparaging remarks on MySpace. People use the computer as a means of disconnect from reality. The internet is a wide open frontier where many allow their egos to roam unbridled.
Certainly, communication in this digital age has been streamlined. We can now communicate with thousands at once with a simple click of the mouse. This allows us to be more efficient in business. However, ministry and relationships are not about efficiency. Ministry and relationships are about countless hours in the hospital waiting room or the counseling room. The computer in all its glory cannot streamline grief, caring, crying or concern.
Regardless of what we might think about this digital age it is reality and we must embrace it if we are survive.
Thanks for a good post! (I would call to tell you this personally but this is much more efficient.) :)

Ircel said...

I think you have the downside of the Internet pegged; it reminds me of those folks who go to what I would consider questionable films and say, "Oh, it's just a movie." The old saying applies: "Garbage in, garbage out."

I agree that the "high tech" stuff does not take the place of "high touch." Digital tools are just that, a means to an end, and never an end in themselves.