The Free Information Age -part 2

In a previous post, I discussed the beginning of what I have dubbed the Free Information Age.  This post was not meant as simply a parenthetical comment to the current zeitgeist, but as an introduction to a discussion of both the cultural waters that the Church must swim in, and a means of strategy for how the Church can carry its message and navigate in this new economy of communication and ideas.

There was a time in which many would accept a bull or ecclesiastical pronouncement with an assumption of infallibility.  Those days are gone.  The Church is mourning this, and that is natural.  But that is mostly because it is natural to prefer blind submission.  The Catholic church didn’t like Martin Luther’s criticism of its theology and practices, in the same way that the Church currently clings to its old position of assumed inerrancy.

Some since of assumed credibility is actually important.  No two parties can truly dialogue if one party questions the validity of every position the other takes.  But should the Church actually fear shouldering the burden of proof?  Let me illustrate.

I remember as a child getting into the argument over “My dad can beat-up your dad.”  This argument was never solved, and never tested.  As a child, I was certain that my step-father was much stronger than anyone else’s, but I secretly knew that there was a possibility that he wasn’t, and the other boy wondered the same.

But what if my father had been Mike Tyson (the 80’s version)?  In that case, I would never have backed down.  The other boy might, but I would be safe in knowing that my position was indisputably secure.

In a similar way, Christians must know that Jesus is who He says He is.  They know that His claims are indisputable.  We have nothing to fear in marketplace of ideas.  We don’t need to defenders of God to the world.  As His claims are tested, He will be shown authentic.

One of the reasons that Christianity has difficulty in this is that our rhetoric is often louder than our actions.  Jesus was clear in that we are to be people who are known by the love that we share, joy, peace, patience, etc.  These are all actions, not words.  Our actions are to be explained by rhetoric when necessary.  In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, we are to always “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

If skepticism of information can cause us to do this more, then it will bring us back to the type of Christianity that we should practice, instead of the rhetorically-driven example of the political Church.  -Ryan


The Free Information Age

At the end of the 1980’s people began to herald the coming of a new age in human history, one that was based not on metal or manufacturing, but on ideas alone.  By the early 90’s people had accepted that this new era had come and had dubbed it “The Information Age.”

We now know that those early forecasts were entirely correct.  In 30 years we have gone from newspapers and books to blogs and Kindles.  Who but sci-fi writers would have predicted that paper maps would be now virtually useless and things like land-line phones, music you buy in a store, and even most wires might soon follow.  But changes in technology aren’t really what is most striking in this new era.  Technology is always assumed to be advancing, yet major changes in the way people interact and commerce is done has been completely revolutionized.

But I don’t need to go on and on about the changes of the Information Age.  This isn’t in question, nor is it the scope of this post.

What does seem to be noteworthy, is that I believed that there has been a major chapter change in this societal tome.  The zeitgeist of the Information Age or IA (because I am sick of typing this out) was that Information could be a commodity itself.  In fact, information itself could prove to be a more important commodity in many ways than even brick and steel.  Information can be used as a weapon.  The lack of information can  be at times more significant than the information itself.  Whole companies, like Microsoft, are based on commoditizing information.

As the 90’s waned, the idea of piracy became very mainstreamed.  It seems that the creation of the MP3 was really the tide changer in this.  As people realized that they could get music for free over the Internet, we all somehow forgot that this had ethical implications.  Okay, we didn’t forget, we willed our own amnesia.  I remember saying upon receiving my first CD burner, “Aha, I will never pay for music again!”  I’m not proud of this, but it happened.

This was the last page of Chapter 1 of the IA.  The next page introduced the Free Information Age (FIA).  As people switched to the idea of free music, this lead to actual philosophizing about the nature of information ownership.  Who “owned” music?  Was it the artist, the record company?  The CEO of the record company?  When you bought a CD, did you now own the music that was on it?  The record companies came up with their take on all this–that you actually only owned the “right to listen to the music” on your CD.  Copyright law has still not been settled on this matter.

But the striking aspect of this is not what it has done to information media or even legal aspects of copyright.  It has lead to a much larger free market of ideas and information in general.  The publishing company Conde Nast just announced last week that they are going to discontinue 3 of their major magazines in the coming months.  Other major magazines and newspapers have already gone down.

You might think that this has all led to a decrease in publishing, but the opposite is entirely true.  In fact, the volume of publication (in general) has exponentially been increasing.  It is the locus of this information that has changed.  While the MSM (a common acronym for the “Mainstream Media” referring to what has long been considered the source of reputable information) has been in decline, blogging, podcasting, and even alternative print has been spreading like wildfire.

Information is now not coming mostly from sources that the publishing houses have authorized, but from individuals who simply have been democratically given a louder pulpit.  It is information capitalism at work.  In some sense it is very beautiful.  Penguin Trade Paper is no longer the vetter of what we get to know, the market itself is.

Along with this comes checks and balances.  The Iranians conducted a missile test last year and widely publicized a photo of the test.  irainian-missile-1

The photo shows 4 missiles being fired in a sign that the Iranians are not to be trifled with.  The story was carried along with the image to your left, in all of the major wire services.  The problem was that it was a fake.  This and images like it have even spawned a new term, fauxtography.

As this came out, bloggers, and netizens examined the story in detail, and began to notice some problems with the imagery.  It didn’t help the Iranian cause that the administration wasn’t seen as trustworthy to begin with.

iranian-missile-2The image on the right is that as examined by the Internet community.  It represents areas that netizens found to be cloned (reproduced from other areas of the picture).  Finally, an image was found that was determined to be the original, an image that showed only one missile being launched.

The Iranian government realized that one missile being launched in the desert was not particularly intimidating, but four missiles was terrifying.  In the end, the message that was heard by the world was that the Iranians felt inferior and weak, and therefore had to fake being strong and intimidating.  This case showed the information community to be quite capable of rejecting information that was fraudulent.  It also showed that even though the spigot of information was wide open, that did not mean that all information would be accepted.

However, giving everyone a microphone is not always a good thing.  The spread of urban myths and disinformation has also become epidemic.  Less than a year after the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks theories spread out of the Muslim world accusing the Bush administration of orchestrating the attacks in order to invade Muslim lands.  All of these theories (including those that implicated Israel and Jews) have been thoroughly debunked by various unbiased authorities.  A book was even written by the editors of Popular Science magazine scientifically debunking these myths.

Yet, these ideas have only grown.  They have spread through Internet memes that take advantage of people either too ignorant or lazy to research the truth (i.e. “fire cannot melt steel), or purposefully intent on spreading propaganda (i.e. “thousands of Jews called in sick in New York on 9/11”).  What should have easily been discounted as ridiculous by netizens has only grown.

The one factor that links these two issues is that the Free Information Age has brought about a skepticism of information, and an assumption of conspiracies.  People now operate more under the assumption that all information is disinformation until proved otherwise.  This has enormous implications for the Church.  More on that later.   –Ryan


The Gratitutde Project

The Gratitude Project

Day 22

My monthly project is progressing, although slower than I expected.  I think I need to babysit it more in order for it to happen.

I have taken to writing thank you cards once a week to a few people.  I think it is funny that people almost always contact me back and thank me for sending them a “thank you.”  I have flirted with the idea of sending out a thank you card for thanking them for thanking me.  OK, I would never do that.  When they call I think “Hey, you can thank me for sending you a ‘thank you.’  That erases the thank you.”

In reality, I am happy that they are calling.  My mind just jumps around to funny semi-sarcastic thoughts all the time.  I don’t do it because I am cynical or mean.  My mind is always just entertaining itself in the background.

I have realized through this that thankfulness begets thankfulness.  People read the card and their response is to say “thank you” for me thanking them.  Mother Theresa once said “We don’t have to reach the whole world.  If half the world was loving the other half, then everyone would be being loved.”  I like that.  If I can be the most thankful person I possibly can, then the people around me will be more thankful.  If they are thankful, then the people around them are affected, and on down the line.  Like a pebble in a pond, the ripples could reach the whole pool.

I want to reach the whole pond, but I really need to pay more attention to me being more thankful.  After all, I am doing this because I get frustrated at how much we (me and most people around me) pay attention to the failures around them.  Psychology calls it the Fundamental Accountability Error.  Every schoolboy knows how it works.  When a fly ball goes into right field and the fielder has to dive to catch it.  He gets up and says “I am an awesome fielder.”  If he misses the catch, it is “The sun was in my eyes.”

That kind of thinking is what causes us to have an entitlement mentality.  This error makes us focus on others failures and what we deserve.  It is the opposite of thankfulness.  It is sin.  Although I fall prey to this law of psychological tendency just as much as anyone else, I am trying to burn it out of me.  That is part of my prayer.  Please pray for me in this regard.  –Ryan

Thoughts from my Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.  Typically, people enjoy their birthdays, I think.  In recent years I have been increasingly becoming quite the birthday party-pooper.  I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is that makes me feel so un-festive on October 1st.  There could be a bunch of reasons, and perhaps many of them work together to make me a little bit gloomy and highly introspective.  I feel a combination of wanting to huddle up in a ball behind the washer and dryer like some sickly cat, and wanting people to gather around me and make me feel loved.  I endure it with a relatively normal look on my face.  I do enjoy the love that people show me, for sure though.

One of the things I’ve dealt with over the last couple years is the knowledge that I’m not getting any younger.  When I was younger I dreamed that I would accomplish all manner of amazing things.  These weren’t just selfish ambitions, but godly Kingdom goals too.  But now the older I get, I see people around me who are my role models, and I realize that by my age, they had already accomplished much more than I.  Some of them are now even younger than I am.  It is starting to feel like that moment in a football game where you realize that there just isn’t enough time to score the three touchdowns you need in order to win, even if you keep the other side from doing anything.  You start to have those thoughts of forced turnovers and onside kicks, but you also really wonder if it is all possible.  Yeah, I know that I’m being overly dramatic, but I already told you that I’m in that sort of mood.  It is my birthday.  Indulge me a little.

When I got home from Barnes and Noble, Peichi was waiting for me with some dinner and a mixed drink that she had made, and cupcakes she had just baked to top it all off.  She is very good to me sometimes.  I felt loved.

As I was eating, she pulled out a milk carton.  I’m lactose intolerant, which means that I can only drink lactose-free milk that just happens to cost twice as much as regular milk.  She showed me the expiration date, a day in late August, a whole month ago.  I’m bad with those kinds of things.  I’ll be in the grocery store and see something on sale, and thinking that my frugal spouse will be proud of me, I’ll buy two.  The problem starts when I forget to actually eat or drink said product.  I’ll put it in the fridge.  It will slowly move to the back as I reach for other things and just put them in front.  Two months later, she’ll pull out an expired milk carton, half full of milk, half full of a green ecosystem complete with Greenpeace activists demanding it be declared a protected environment.

I smiled nonchalantly and continued to eat.  The date stared back at me, boring a hole in my forehead.  As I ate, I realize that sometimes I feel a bit like that milk carton.  I look back on my year and realize that some of who I am has just sat on the shelf.  Some of my gifts have just not been used.

Just like that milk, I have an expiration date.  We all do.  It isn’t known, but it is definitely stamped on our foreheads in some ink we can’t see, but it is indelible.  We are also filled up with gifts, dreams, passions, and all manner of good stuff.   When we can’t use these in the way God intended, they just sit there and slosh around inside of us.  I think that is why Proverbs 13:12 says “hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, but longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  I was meant for those hopes, gifts, and passions to be used for God and His kingdom.

I don’t believe that I’m sitting on the shelf, but as I sat on my birthday I realized that I have so much more to give.  God put things in me that I want to be used for Him this year.  I can’t put the blame for this on anyone but myself.  The possibilities are endless, and ultimately any blame for my shelf-ishness (see I just made a ridiculous pun) is my own.  But I know I don’t want things in me to sit on the shelf for another year turning green.  I never know when time for me, just like it did for that milk, may have passed. -Ryan