Tuned-by Social Media

social media

To many people Twittering is what birds do, but to others it is something done all the time on their cell phones, tablets or on
their computers. Twitter shot into limelight in India when a former Minister sent a ‘twit’ into cyber space about austerity measures and travel in cattle class.

I used to work in the IT industry in the early 1990’s. In those days it was a challenge to get computers to network – or in other words communicate to each other. It was considered a feat when we were able to share files and when messages could be sent from one system to another. So, if something needed to be communicated to another person, one would get up and walk over to speak with the other person – this was by far easier. These days things have changed – computers network with one another very easily either through the internet or a dedicated intranet. Sharing files, photos, videos and messages have become a breeze. Now if we need to pass on some information to another person, we just dash off a chat message, send an email or maybe just text. Guess you
have noticed something interesting here – people talk less to each other directly while computers are doing all the talking to each other; yes, sometimes on behalf of us. In many respects humans and machines have interchanged their positions over the years.

Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial “ brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.” HAL’s outpouring of feeling contrasts with the emotionlessness that characterizes the human figures in the film, who go about their business with an almost robotic efficiency. Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm.

In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

An article in an international magazine gives the report of a young man Jason Russell. He did not have much of a web presence except for some pictures of himself as a kid and a Facebook and a Twitter account. But early in 2012 he forwarded a link of Kony 20-12 his web commentary on the notorious African warlord Joseph Kony. For those not familiar with Kony – he’s the one who founded the Lord’s Resistance Army who have been waging a civil war in Uganda. His infamy goes to the extent that he kidnaps children and after indoctrinating them encourages them to kill their own parents. He is listed among the top 10 wanted by Forbes based on inputs from law-enforcement agencies around the world. Now coming back to Jason who put up the video on Kony – this video went viral and clocked more that 70 million hits in less than a week. What happened next to Russell is more interesting than what happened to that link. He took off his clothes went to a busy intersection in San Diego and slapped on the concrete with both palms and ranted about the devil.

Russell was diagnosed with ‘reactive psychosis’ – which is temporary insanity. This seemed to have been caused by being connected too much. After his Kony 2012 video went viral he slept only two hours in four days and in eight days he had crossed over the borders of sanity. It is interesting to note that before Russell’s link on Kony going viral he has tagged a tweet by Andy Borowitz as a favourite. It read ‘It’s important to turn off our computers and do things in the real world or we wont have anything to tweet about’. Ironically, Jason ignored the advice he knew was good.

Research is clearly pointing to the fact that the internet is not just a networking medium but is creating a whole new digital state of mind. So are we saying that the internet is making us crazy? Not really! But increased usage is starting to tell in different ways. There is a definite increase in maniac, depressive and anxious behaviour. Larry Rosen,  a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades says that the internet “encourages—and even promotes— insanity’. Now, that’s really something that should make us sit up and listen.

Some countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea recently have accepted the view that the net also seems, to not just create addictions, but also contributes to ADHS – Attention deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome and OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Both these disorders have major behavioural and attention implications. In an experiment conducted at the University of Maryland 200 students were asked to stay off the net and mobile technologies for a day and to keep a record of their feelings. The results were alarming – the students accepted that they were addicted – to the extent that some compared media to ‘a drug’. And, this summarises the magnitude of the problem – Chinese researchers say that the brains of internet addicts look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts.

So is this only all bad news? Yes, if we are networked freaks its time to pull the plug. It may not be too early. We do not need to reach the stage of Jason Russell to realize how badly we have been hit.

But there is also the good side. No generation has been connected and networked to each other like this generation. Whether it is through cell-phones or internet or other communication devices. This should make us ask a vital question. What makes us so excited about being connected to each other? Is there something in my internal wiring which makes me desire this kind of social linkages? Why is it that I am constantly seeking for something from the outside in my internet searches? We were created by one who is one and yet many? It is the likeness of His image that makes us hunger in such a manner.

But the heart of the Trinity is not fine theological distinctions but a relation of love, a fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, a super community that is so unified in love that they count as one being. The movement of God is toward deeper and deeper incarnation, enfleshment. It appears that the glory of our existence as beings created, redeemed, and blessed by God is a tangible, physical existence, in which we live together and love one another in an embodied way. One can even define sin as anything that undermines shared embodied love. Murder is the most obvious example. But so does gossip or lust or theft or unrighteous anger, and so forth. The many catalogues of vices in the Old and New Testaments have this in common: they undermine in one way or another a shared embodied life of love. And so we come to the age of the Internet. For all its obvious flaws, it does seem to bring people together to communicate, collaborate, and create community. As Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine, waxed eloquent
recently, “Communal aspects of digital culture run deep and wide.” He noted Wikipedia as “just one remarkable example of an emerging collectivism,” and also pointed to collaborative sites like Digg, Stumble Upon, the Hype Machine, Twine, Wesabe, and of course Twitter. Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share apps, scripts, and APIs. It’s at this point that we spot the great weakness of this technology. The type of community that can quickly and easily be fostered on the Internet is a disembodied one, one in which only minds meet, and that works at cross purposes to the movement of God in history.

We see the same sort of problem with angry emails that are sent because we’re afraid of actually talking the issues through face to face. Or viewing pornography rather than engaging in a deeper relationship with one’s own wife.

On the other hand, email or Skype or Facebook can sustain a relationship so that, when we meet with a loved one face to face, we are able to ground that relationship at even deeper levels. Or we collaborate with others to create software that helps us more easily schedule face-to-face meetings, or to organize fun runs or bike outings, or to make plane reservations to go visit a daughter on another continent. These are very simple observations, which is why sometimes they are so difficult to attend to. And why we need to be reminded time and again of God’s intention for us, and then measure everything we do or say against that intent.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan put  it well in responding to Kelly’s piece, when he wrote on his blog: “It has long occurred to me that the web is indeed a Marxist paradise. Pity we are not really full human beings with bodies when we are on it.” The Internet is not the key to human fulfillment, but neither is it of the devil. We can work with this technology, as we can with any, so that it fosters engagement with “real, full human beings with bodies.”

The nature of this love over flows love begets love and even more beings to love. And for some reason, God-who is spirit-nonetheless wishes to make this love a tangible reality in the one he creates. This starts from “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” to “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

cyrilAbout the Author

The author serves with RZIM as the Chief Training Officer. He has worked in the Information Technology and Airline industry prior to this and the family has lived in the cities of Nasik, Delhi and now Mumbai.

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