September 25, 2020

Random Thoughts About The Internet: What I’m Doing With It, What It’s Doing To Us, How It’s Changed Me, Etc.

UPDATE: An absolutely great resource on technology and the many ways Christians are affected by it: Don’t Eat The Fruit. Be sure and listen to the Is Technology Neutral? presentation.

A bunch of things that occurred to me today, all related to the internet and what we do on it and with it.

1. It strikes me that the predominant sins in this medium are narcissism and waste. We need to differentiate narcissism from various kinds of legitimate self-revelation, but we need to proclaim that narcissism is a sin many of us are absolutely exulting in.

And waste is waste. Time. Affections. Work. Mental energy. Significance.

2. Was that first moment of excitement that came along with self-publishing (wherever you did it) a good thing? Was it “Hello? Anyone else out there?” Or was it “Now, the world will know about ME?” Or was it something else? I remember it. Compuserve. The SBC Forums. And then the first versions of my blog, which was about the Gospel of Mark. And the first emails that someone was reading. I was thrilled, and I wanted more.

Was all of that a good thing? Or was there seduction in there as well?

I know the answer to that question, and I just don’t like to think about it.

3. The temptations of this medium are so near to us we ought to be seriously intimidated. It used to take work to see pornography, ruin a reputation or even to waste time. Now, you can corrupt your character and waste your day far beyond what television ever made possible, just by sitting in a chair and clicking. And we are all so confident that having this amount of dynamite in the house is manageable.

You now have access to all the worst information and worst habits and indulgences in the world. How are you doing with that access?

4. What has it done to marriages? Do you ever notice that people seem to be saying stuff over the net that they probably are not saying to their wife/husband, pastor, real friends or anyone else? I don’t want to overdo that. My wife doesn’t need to hear all my thoughts on theology. But there are people in the same house, sitting in separate rooms, talking on computers to people in other houses doing the same things, and not talking to one another. At Christmas, when we finished opening the gifts at the grandparents house, all the younger members of the family whipped out the phones and starting checking mail and texting. It was very quiet.

5. Theology students: Have you worked out how a student behaves as compared to a teacher? Do you have a personal commitment to living out the difference between an amateur and a professional? The internet has allowed every theology student in the world- the bright ones, the not so bright ones, the ones with amazing things to say, the ones with nothing to say- to all have a web page with a Latin title infested with posts about the importance of expository preaching, the problem with N.T. Wright and the good news that some of their professors agree with them.

It’s too much, boys. Too much. Most of your professors are rarely heard from in this medium. (I’m not saying that’s a good thing. It’s just a fact.) But vast numbers of you are buzzing away like a swarm of theological locusts. I believe in free speech, but let’s find some of the status of a student, and let’s embrace it with a commitment to sound like a student.

I have a favorite blogger who is a one of the finest theological minds I’ve ever encountered. I carry several pages of some of his posts in my satchel all the time.

He quit blogging. He said he was a student.

6. But here’s the other thing. Why do I listen to so many people on the internet that I really do not want to hear from or about?

Don’t get me wrong. I like these people. I do. Really.

I just don’t care what they are eating. Or what their kids are saying. Or what store they are at. Or what chore they just started. Or what they are studying or what music they are listening to. Or a hundred other perfectly normal, good things that I really do not need to know and shouldn’t be reading about anyone. The Pope. Obama. LaBron. Anyone.

Imagine if ten years ago someone had said “We have a new service where you can get a recorded message from any and all of your friends telling you what they are doing at that very moment. It will come by phone.”

The idea of your phone ringing all day to tell you that Bob was at the grocery would have sounded like a nightmare.

Well… we are.

I started calculating today how much my Twitter client and Facebook status checks cost me in time (if I have them on) while I’m working.

I’m 52. I do not have this kind of time. And neither do you if you are 18.

It’s too much. It’s not community. It’s not socializing. It’s too much. There are things I need to do. Books to read and write. People next door and in hospitals and shut in to talk to. Letters to write. Thoughts to think. Dreams to dream. Music to listen to. (And I can do all of this without taking another two hours of my day to tell you all about it.)

Yes, I bear some guilt, so stop wagging your finger. I’m just thinking here.

7. Some of you are surrounded by people who are on the net or twitter of facebook all the time, so you can talk about these things in the real world. But I’m not. Everytime I catch myself saying the words “internet friend” I hesitate. What did I just say? What does that mean?

A bunch of my best friends are people I never see. Is that good?

I say things like “there’s a controversy in the blogosphere about….,” and I realize that for most of the people who hear that, I might as well have said “There’s a controversy on Saturn.”

Is this good? Is this “social networking?” Really? Why does it feel like I’m spending a lot of time listening for something that I know good and well isn’t worth the investment of time to listen for it.

8. I know. I sound like I’m selling buggy whips. This medium has been very, very good to me, and here I am grousing about it. I just don’t think we’re thinking about it much.

We’re googling, not thinking. Not reading. Not asking questions.

We’re given these immense tools, and we’re not using them all that well or wisely. Some of us are doing a much better job than others. Please teach the rest of us how to be better stewards. Or how to repent.

There are real treasures out here, and I do not deny that or have any plans to abandon the good uses of the medium. But we no longer live in a time when anything is just one thing. Any one thing, especially in the world of technology, is actually many things, and it always demands of us more thought, more careful engagement, more willingness to sacrifice and more calls for honesty.

Your constructive thoughts are welcome as well….


  1. I realized a few weeks ago I had a choice. I could use my newly stable, post-house buying, post-marital challenges, post-grad school free time to learn how to write the novels that have been rattling around in my head since a teenager…or let my life be sucked into a cacophonous abyss of tweets, blogs, second lives, facebook games and other nonsense. Something tells me my finite time on this planet could be put to better use with the former than the latter. I unsubbed over half my rss feeds and plan to dump more (not iMonk though–you have at least one devoted agnostic reader and you are extremely thought provoking and challenging, especially when I disagree with you). In addition, twitter has been dialed back to a dull roar, and facebook gets checked a lot less. I use one service that syndicates updates to all my social sites, but honestly I fond I have a lot less to say, now that I’ve taken the advice of a good friend who is also a published author, unplugged my modem, and spent at least half my evenings with BICHOK (Butt in chair, Hands on Keyboard). And if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m gonna do that now. Thanks as always for the reality check. 🙂

  2. Michael,
    I believe all this to be like a two edged sword. It cuts both ways. Technology simply cuts the time involved in assimilation of information. I have used it to learn much needed things more quickly. Yes, there is some time waste, but even that can be put to good use.

    Many people I think have simply shifted their time wastes from TV to internet. Ratings are down, internet use is up. Greater freedom has resulted, both the freedom to do good and evil.

    I’ve read many testimonies from people who dived head first into Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc., who have realized they don’t work for them. So, there is some discernment out there and some real soul searching. On the other hand, idle net chat has turned into some real fellowship for me, face to face.

    Also, I blog about things I don’t talk to my wife about first. But she reads it. It’s awkward having that “birds and bees” talk with her, you know, “Honey, I want to discuss with you how your view of lapsarianism affects your ecclesiology.” She reads it and sometimes it leads to conversation. It has drastically cut down on that question, “what are you thinking?”

    Finally, I admit talking to strangers about certain things, because I know I won’t be judged by prejudices of those closer to me. Strangers can often be better listeners.

  3. Memphis Aggie says

    Hi Imonk,

    I just read another blog where Marian devotion was being argued. It made me appreciate the even handed, serious but diplomatic inter-faith conversations that are made possible by your moderation. Thank you.

  4. One interesting excercise is to read the time stamps of earlier comments. I keep hearing about how we don’t get enough sleep in this country…

  5. Dave R: Not everyone who reads this blog is in the U.S.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Students should publish with some awareness that they are students, and not pontificate like they are professors. — IMonk

    On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re really a dog.
    Or a student.

  7. Of course, some time is wasted, but I find it great for building friendships with folks with common interests. The best message board/forum is for the blood type diet ( I am constantly learning & helping others thru that one. I learn better in small chunks, so going online is helpful to learn things.
    It is also as prayer conduit. I ask for prayer & get prayer requests that I can pray for on the spot.
    It is great for networking. It saves time in phone calls to e-mail.(I don’t get put on hold & others aren’t interrupted at critical times.) Letter writing takes too much planning; e-mail zaps the info or question to the person. If there is a misunderstanding, e-mail is faster to clarify it.(I would be too lazy to write another letter!)
    I am new to facebook & love it. But I limit the amount of friends & add them slowly.
    The ability to get much info easily can be a blessing or a curse. If I were younger, it would be difficult to manage that. But at my age, I limit the main topics I indulge in. Right now they are nutrition/alt. med, politics, gay issues, & religion. I am a big fan of the Marin Foundation & keep up with that. I’m sure that organization wouldn’t grow so fast without the internet!

    They say that users of this media are introverts & loners. I am a people person who thrives on interaction with others. But I can’t do that often in a big city with long winters, with most women friends working, & a protective husband! But I sure do enjoy my internet community as it grows!

    Sure there is evil stuff out there, but there is so much good, that I haven’t had a problem with that yet. Pray I don’t as I know the enemy tries to trip us up, especially if we say we don’t have a certain problem!
    I’m sure there is more, but that’s it for now.
    Mrs “T” Chicago