What every parent should know about the Internet (2)
Last month we noted that the Internet can be used for good or ill. This month, we look in detail at some key technologies fuelled by the Internet revolution.
Inparticular, we consider communication from e-mail to text, Twitter and Skype. This is an area fraught with real and deeply troubling dangers, but, when the technology is used wisely, it can bring immense benefits to individuals and organisations.
Driving while ‘intexticated’…
In 2007 Brandi Terry, a 17-year-old schoolgirl who lives in the US state of Utah, was on her way to visit her grandfather when she drove through a red light and crashed. In a radio interview1 she recalls what happened: ‘I woke up to a bright light – I could barely open my eyes – and paramedics.
‘This man was saying “Brandi, Brandi”, and I just started crying. I didn’t know what had happened’. Terry had shattered her right ankle and broken her upper right arm in half. She couldn’t walk for six months. When police checked her phone they discovered that she had sent a text within seconds of the accident.
Even after recovery, she went on to say of her habit of texting while driving: ‘I tried really, really hard not to. Then it got to the point where I would do it only once every five minutes’. She says, ‘I don’t know – it’s just so addicting, I just can’t put it down’.
So why did she do it?
In a March 2008 BBC report, Professor Cary Cooper, who advises the British government on stress in the workplace, suggested that ‘e-mail is one of the most pernicious stressors of our time’2.
He went on to say that every year Britons take 14 million sick days due to stress, and that e-mail is a major source of employee anxiety: ‘We are 24/7; we are interfaced by the mobile phone, by Blackberry, by e-mails, by a whole range of technologies, so that we are almost on call all the time’.
Wherever we look, we find people addicted to checking messages on their mobile phones. How often have we seen a row of teenagers sitting together, all glued to their phones, with hear-buds firmly in place, and wondered if they were in fact communicating with each other – by text!
Teenagers are not the only ones guilty of such behaviour, as anyone who has been on a flight can testify. As soon as the plane lands, out come the phones, Blackberries or iPhones to check up on that message that might just have been missed!
Or take the recent case of a man being interviewed for a head teacher’s position, checking his phone in the middle of the interview as soon as he received a text message. He did not get the job!
It’s all about me
So why do we do it? Why are so many addicted to these new media, with ‘addiction’ defined by Webster’s Dictionary as: ‘to surrender oneself to something obsessively or habitually’?
Is it not a sinful part of selfish human nature that makes us want to think that we are indispensable? So much so, that we become addicted to e-mail, text, twitter, or any number of new communications.
It is the opposite of what we read in Philippians 2:3: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.’
Another new technology that has people baffled is Twitter. Started in 2006, it has experienced a monthly growth of 1382 per cent!
Do you tweet?
Twitter is a service that enables its users to send and read messages of up to 140 characters known as tweets. Anyone can then subscribe to receive these tweets. Some of the biggest showbiz stars and politicians have massive followings.
Three and a half million people follow every tweet that Britney Spears sends, while two and a half million need to know about Barack Obama’s every move. Perhaps it makes people feel ‘closer’ to their favourite star or politician?
There is good also
Yet, there is still much that can be said in favour of these new media. Consider, for example, the missionary organisation that has been able to cut costs significantly by replacing letters with e-mails. Instantly, they can let people know of prayer needs, of a difficult situation or a matter for rejoicing.
Organisations such as the Christian Institute are even using Twitter to keep subscribers informed of significant developments.
Or think of parents, separated from their married children and grandchildren, who can now see and talk to them over free Internet video services, such as Skype. These days, the world is a much smaller place!
It was Twitter that was at the heart of the recent protests in Iran, because it was both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control.
Similarly, text messages can be of great value in times of emergencies. All this is changing the way that we interact with each other. And it is undoubtedly contributing to a higher level of stress, with people now available all of the time.
The boss gives employees a Blackberry and expects to be able to call on their services any time of night and day! But the change is here to stay, as the postal service will attest, with 10 per cent yearly drops in the physical mail we send.
When considering our 24/7 society, we should focus on key biblical principles of self-control, selflessness and service. The book of James states that ‘where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere’ (James 3:16-17).
In contrast to what is going on around us, Christians are not to be addicted to e-mail, text, Twitter or any new form of communication. These are tools to be used for good; they are not to control us. We should also apply the principle of James 1:19, of being ‘quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger’.
In other words, we need to think about how we communicate with people. We need, for example, to consider how a person might read (or misinterpret) an e-mail.
Our responses should be considered, measured and focused on building up. We should consider: ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy’ and ‘think about such things’ (Philippians 4:8).
With spam accounting for over 90 per cent of all e-mail traffic, it is important to take simple precautionary steps, such as installing a spam filter (though many e-mail providers, like Google and BT, already have these) and using up-to-date antivirus software. However, beyond these things, Christian principles such as self control and humility are vital.
Some Christian couples have found that sharing an e-mail account can be helpful. Others suggest that not immediately responding to e-mails or text-messages is a good way of avoiding their addictive effects.
Particularly helpful is the idea of not responding on the same day to a message that has upset you. Simply putting it in the ‘drafts’ folder and re-reading it the following day before sending it can avoid many dangers.
I conclude with an interesting true story that can be applied to all forms of new communications. Two friends were together, outside, chopping up logs. The phone in the house ran several times, and eventually one friend asked the other if he was going to answer it? The homeowner simply said: ‘No. The phone is a convenience, and at this moment it is inconvenient’!
The next article will look at the social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin and others. We will also look at Instant Messaging (IM) and seek to bring practical, helpful and positive advice.
© David Clark