Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Knowledge and Digital Media

We’re winding it up on The Next Story this week, but I’m sure I’m going to have lots to think about for weeks to come. I’ve been amazed at how much more aware I’ve been over the last few weeks of the digital technology all around me, and the way that I interact with it.

Quality versus quantity has been one of the main things on my mind this week. Take my mobile phone as an example. It’s an iPhone 4. The tech-savvy among us will be aware that there are two newer versions of this phone out already, and I find myself wondering from time to time whether I should upgrade. But here’s the thing - I’m pretty sure that I’m already only using about 20% of the functions my current phone is capable of. It does EVERYTHING (and more!) that I need it to. My phone isn’t broken. It’s never been dropped in a swimming pool or a toilet. But it’s not the newest model, and I realise I’ve been tempted by advertising to think I should get a newer, faster, slightly flashier version of it, just because I can. I wonder if I’ve been hoodwinked into thinking that speed and efficiency are virtues, that a person who gets more things done in the same period of time is somehow a better person than one who doesn’t. It’s easy to equate lack of speed and multitasking with laziness in our culture today. I wonder about our ability as a culture to slow down and consider things deeply, to ponder big thoughts about important matters.

The discussion in the final chapter of the book about visibility and search engines made me realise in a much clearer way than ever before that information I leave behind me in a digital world never really goes away. This is one of those things that I’ve always known, but find it easy to gloss over and not think about. It still seems to me that the probability is high that my data trail all over the world is unlikely to come back to bite me, but it was good to remember that the things I search for online and the things I write online don’t disappear into the void. There is probably information out there that I wouldn’t want other, real people (not the faceless internet) to see, and I’m sure that the same could be said for many of you. Possibly there are habits and hidden pasts which some of us are deeply ashamed of. In reflecting on all of this I couldn’t help but think of King David’s words in Psalm 139:

            O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
            You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
            you discern my thoughts from afar.
            You search out my path and my lying down
            and are acquainted with all my ways.
            Even before a word is on my tongue,
            behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

God knows us even better than the computer banks at Google, to put it lightly - better than we know ourselves. What a relief to discover what he does with all that information, some of it so very unsavoury. In Psalm 103 we discover:

            He does not deal with us according to our sins,
            nor repay us according to our iniquities.
            For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
            so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
            as far as the east is from the west,
            so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Our computers might never forget what we do, but praise God that he is willing to.

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