I'm cheating today and going to work through chapter 9 and the epilogue of Tim Challies' book, The Next Story. Chapter 9 deals with the subjects of privacy and visibility.
It is commonly known that everything you do on your computer will typically leave traces behind. Between cookies and caches and system event logs one can glean a lot of information about a person's computer usage. This is often why people addicted to online pornography are so habitual about clearing their browser history, they try to remove traces of their addiction - of their sin. But even if you successfully clear all evidences of your browsing history and computer usage from your computer, are you aware that those evidences are
often likely still out there?
Every time I search for something on Google that search is logged into a database. Somewhere out there, perhaps in multiple backups, there is info about my search history. Tim points out, quite rightly, that on some level Google may know my interests, my fears, my habits better than I do. Where I'm prone to forget, the database - barring some sort of digital catastrophe - never forgets.
Data is rarely deleted from databases - even if you want it to be. Facebook is a great example of this fact, not only do they regularly change their privacy settings and standards, forcing you to go into your account settings to ensure that your embarrassing spring break photos aren't made available to the general public, but they also make it incredibly difficult for those who would choose to leave the site all together. And should you successfully "delete" your account - they still have all your photos, all your status updates, all your interests and contact info you've entered into the account for 14 days. Any interaction with the site during those 14 days will cancel your deletion request.
Our bank websites, every form we've ever filled out, every forum we've joined and posted in - all digital footprints, all evidences of our lives online. Here's what struck me the most about this chapter:
Facebook maintains a record of our past relationships, the messages we've sent to old boyfriends or girlfriends, the things we said before we were Christians and the things we have said since.(pg 180)
Forget about Facebook for a minute, expand that to the entire web and then think about that for a minute. Everything you have ever said, everything you've ever searched for - the things you may not admit to anyone in real life - all available on the web. I don't know about you, but I'm often horrified of how I acted, spoke, and thought before I was a Christian (indeed I still am horrified by the way I act, speak, and think now) - most people in my life didn't know me back then. It's freeing in a sense, but you know something?
Somewhere all that info still exists. The horrible poetry I used to write, the garbage I used to read, the things I searched for - all of these things revealed my heart at the time and all these things are still out there somewhere. If a person were to compile all that info into a profile for me it would certainly reveal a teenage girl who was in need of a Savior. But if they were to compile all the info I've created since coming to faith would it reveal a slightly older girl who is trying to live a life in light of the fact that she's been saved? Our lives, because we're Christians, are to be marked by integrity, by honesty, by graciousness - these expectations do not stop to exist simply because we're on the internet. After all, do we not serve a God who sees and knows all? Do we not serve a God who instructs us to be a light to those around us? Let us
A Series of 1s and 0s
Do you have a store loyalty card? I do. I love it because it allows me to save money on the things I need to buy, but I'm also aware of the fact that the only reason the store allows me to save that money is so that they can track my purchases. It allows them to compile data that will evaluate the effectiveness of their advertising, it allows them to determine what vendors are doing well and which need to reconsider their product placement. But to the people that analyze this info I'm not a a 20 something single mother who has a sarcastic flair and loves to hike, to the people that analyze this info I'm a mother who buys a lot of bread, peanut butter, and jelly. The things that make me who I am - in a real sense - don't matter to these people because all they see are the computer generated reports. Somewhere in the transmission of those 1s and 0s my personal traits are lost.
We were not people who had paid every bill and met every obligation. Instead, we were a series of numbers - incomes and expenses and liabilities. In the end, a computer processed the numbers and found that for one reason or another we simply did not qualify as borrowers. And that was that. The bankers had no ability to change the rules and no right to plead our case. The numbers had spoken. It was strangely distressing and dehumanizing...In a not-so-subtle way, the Numerati are teaching us to see other people, not as real flesh-and-blood people created in the image of God, but as objects - numerical data that can be used to satisfy our own purposes.(pg 181-182)
Seeing and Being Seen
According to Tim we live in a culture that fosters exhibitionism - I think he is probably right. MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube - what's the common theme? Being seen and connecting with people. The most mundane things are often some of the post popular things on YouTube - we want to be seen. We want to share our lives with each other, we want to feel important. Television knows how drawn we are to seeing the mundane - I think this is precisely why reality TV is so popular. "Regular" people live their lives, or shoot for their dreams, in front of our eyes. We rejoice when they do well, and we mock when they fail. On some level we love to watch the failures more than the triumphs. I know a great many people that love American Idol - or they did when Simon was still on board - because of how the people who couldn't sing would get torn apart in front of millions of viewers.
But where is the respect for one another when we mock those who experience tragedy, when their suffering becomes our entertainment?(pg 190)
Wrapping It Up
Tim says that "our actions betray the state of our hearts" (pg 190), if this is the case we need to constantly be willing to examine what our lives are saying about our hearts. The digital explosion has made it easy for us to share information and aspects of our lives without putting much thought into how we're portraying Christ. As Christians, we must examine ourselves, we must examine the way we think and relate to people, to media, and to the devices that connect us.
This is my last post on The Next Story, it's been an interesting read. There was a lot of information covered, but I think Tim did a great job keeping everything really accessible to the reader. It was a challenging read as well - I'd certainly recommend it to everyone, but perhaps especially to those of us who work on computers.
Realistically I spend anywhere from 8 to 13 hours a day on the computer - that's a lot of screen time, and I'm often not thoughtful about it. I don't think about whether or not it is the best use of my time when I'm playing - I have to be on it to work so I probably can't dramatically get under 8 hours, but I can be more intentional about having set work hours and not trying to do other things (read: Facebook, Twitter & Google News) on the computer during that time.
Certainly your mileage will vary, but I think all of us could benefit from analyzing our media intake and prayerfully considering what changes need to be made. Maybe your screen time won't decrease, but perhaps what you do during that time will change, or perhaps you'll just think through the way these technologies are influencing your spiritual life. Whatever it looks like in your life, I hope you'll find freedom in it.
My Previous Posts on The Next Story
Chapter 6 - Rabbit Trail