I think this might be the right time and place to own up to something: I have superpowers.
Before you dismiss me as a mad man and skip the rest of this article, I’d like to add that… you have superpowers too.
Since God created human beings in his own image, we’ve been given the mandate to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’. And that’s what we’ve been doing – not simply by giving birth to generation after generation, but by working and creating.
Ideas and inventions throughout human history have been part of the story of ‘filling’ and ‘subduing’. The mandate has been hampered and distorted by our rebellion against our Creator, yet the story continues. We think – we discover – we make – we refine. No generation starts from scratch; we build on what has come before; we stand on the shoulders of giants. And with each new development we gain new powers and abilities:
The wheel allowed us to move heavy objects with ease.
The optical lens gave us super sight, allowing us to see what we can’t with the naked eye.
The telephone let us speak to people who are in a different location.
The internet is just one recent development in this process; a development which those born in the 21st century simply take for granted – just like many of us take books for granted or light bulbs. Yet you can’t deny that the internet has given us superpowers our grandparents would be amazed by.
We must, of course, be careful. With all of our tools and inventions, as much as we try to shape them, they in turn shape us. And possessing super powers doesn’t automatically make you a super hero.
Talk with me
For the average person, the internet initially gave them the superpower of ‘knowledge’ – access to information. In the same way that a book collection is like having a team of authors on your shelf who you can get information from, the internet puts the combined knowledge of humanity at our fingertips. The existence of websites like Google and Wikipedia have revolutionised what we can find out and how we learn.
But as digital channels and tools have developed, the internet has in many ways become democratised. Where once it was only those with specific skills (or the money to hire those people) who could use the internet to communicate, now it’s a communication platform for everyone and anyone.
For example, I can use Twitter to send a short message directly to a famous person, politician or company – and they might actually respond. Or I can upload a video to YouTube which might be seen by hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.
Because communication is no longer the privilege of the rich or specially trained, our culture has new expectations. For instance, they expect more than ever before to be treated as individuals. Communication is not about the soapbox or the megaphone anymore. It’s about conversations. Even for big companies, broadcasting (speaking to a large audience) is being replaced by narrowcasting (speaking to – and with – the individual).
Therein lies something good for us to affirm. We are not the faceless masses – the passive audience – a target demographic. Each individual is made and known by God. And our thoughts, words and actions have such cosmic significance that God demands an account for each one.
As Christians we can sometimes be guilty of removing the faces from people who need Jesus. We talk about reaching ‘a community’ or ‘a town’ or ‘a place’ and yet don’t know the names or struggles or stories of anyone who’s a part of it. These are people who want to be spoken with, not spoken to.
Life on display
Facebook is currently the largest online ‘social network’ with 1.32 billion people who use it every month. Their mission statement gives good insight into the purpose of a social network: ‘We want to give you the power to share and to make the world more open and connected.’
Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) spoke at a conference and said, ‘We are building a Web where the default is social.’
‘The default is social.’ To make ‘social’ the default – public rather than private – involves sharing your daily experiences with others: where you are – what you’re doing – who you’re with. It’s opening up your life to a watching world. It’s putting your life on display.
Of course, not many people in the watching world actually care what you had for lunch. So the practice of sharing life events can seem extremely arrogant. Yet the idea of opening up your life – putting your life on display – has a positive side too.
We all have to wrestle with what is and isn’t appropriate to share. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face then you shouldn’t share it online. Some aspects of life are only appropriate for fellow believers or for close friends.
But integrity is a growing value within online culture. The idea is that you shouldn’t pretend to be a different person in different contexts; you shouldn’t wear a mask; you should be the same person at work as you are at home; you should be the same person online as you are face-to-face.
Many people kick against this because they don’t want their family or colleagues knowing who they really are. But as Christians we should be at the forefront and leading the charge. For most Christians living where there is freedom of religion, we shouldn’t mind our boss seeing our online profiles as we should have nothing to hide.
Matthew 5:14-16: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
1 Peter 2:12: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Live the whole of your life for Jesus – and be seen doing it.
Christians are to be culture makers and shapers. Like salt, we’re supposed to add flavour and stop the rot wherever we can. But that means staying up-to-date with our world – if not one step ahead.
Sadly, technological and cultural developments often seem to catch Christians off-guard. When faced with the ‘new’ we hear replies of ‘I’ll wait and see how it works out’ and ‘look at the bad uses!’ and ‘it’s probably just a fad’. Of course we mustn’t absorb or accept anything without looking at it through the clear lens of Scripture. But likewise we mustn’t retreat into a comfortable Christian ghetto.
If we’re to become all things to all people so that we might save some then we need to be where people are. More than that, when it comes to ideals that find their basis in God’s truth – such as integrity and the value of individuals – we should be leading the way.