"There is no law, no restraint in this seething cauldron of vice and depravity."
-The New York Tribune describing the city of Abilene, Kansas (late 19th Century)
The internet is a reflection of our culture. Or is it the other way around? Is our culture a reflection of the internet? Now, I'm not naive (or simply foolish) enough to think it is as simple as an A yields B formula, but I cannot help but notice the culture-shaping power of the internet. Created as a computer-linking, communication-sharing network, the internet places vast quantities of information at our fingertips. But as it quickly evolved, it has provided us with much more...
...Global video gaming...
And so much more.
"It's like the wild west, the internet. There are no rules."
More than just a means of communication and information sharing, the internet is a place giving expression to, and providing an outlet for, our deepest desires and most heartfelt convictions. Like the Wild West, an individual is free to do almost anything online with impunity. Social media can a be useful tool, but also a breeding ground for vanity, pride, gossip, and hate. The ease of Amazon, Ebay, and other shopping sites brings convenience, but also feeds the greedy, covetous, materialistic hunger within. Chat rooms, gaming platforms, and pornography pretend to create environments of community and intimacy, while in reality, they simply serve to isolate individuals and leave them perpetually unfulfilled.
And now, it comes full circle. Rather than being shaped by (reflecting) the culture, the internet is now exerting its influence on the culture, reflecting itself back into our lives and onto our society. People's lives are shaped--sometimes explicitly, but oftentimes, implicitly--by the things said and done online. The instantly gratifying, oft-ignorantly opinionated, sexually degrading, and communally hollow elements of the internet culture are shaping our conversations about, and the ways we engage in (or disengage from), politics, religion, education, sex, and community life. Civil debate and conversation are often replaced by caustic insults and a lack of listening. News coverage is as much about entertainment and advertising as about reporting the news, with the sensational and Youtube worthy segments getting the most airtime. Rather than looking up and out at the people and world around us, we look down and in at our phone and tablet screens. While experts still exist, everyone now has an "informed" opinion on everything (educated or otherwise), to boldly share with the expectation that it will be accepted and adopted as good, true, and beautiful.
Yes, the Wild West of the internet is shaping us; shaping us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is an ever-changing stone gathering momentum as it rushes downhill, propelling us forward with it. It is a swiftly flowing stream, carving a path through society, leaving its indelible markings on the formation of our future.
"[Men are] not free when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom."
While acknowledging the wonderful, helpful elements of the internet--the ways it has contributed to human flourishing--we must recognize the potentially harmful ways in which it is shaping us, shaping our society. In addition, we must recognize the need for an alternative culture; a culture fitting for the Kingdom of God. We must strive to create an alternative culture that values wisdom, discretion, thoughtfulness, and truth; a culture that pursues diversity, justice, and faithfulness; a culture that reflects the grace and glory of our God out to the wider culture around us in such a way as to exert a compelling influence upon it. May we seek to live into this kind of culture--a culture of true freedom and life--in the midst of the wild, wild west culture raging around us.
So, how will you live?