…the Internet can pervert anything
Parents need to know that,
whether it's biblical fiction
or a favorite boy band,
innocent interests are being used
to draw good kids into evil,
dangerous corners of the Web
Warning: the following addresses pornography and sexual content
Born in 1998, I grew up in the generation when the iPod Touch and cellphones were starting to become more accessible to teens. This had a massive effect on my journey through puberty, my struggle to view sexuality in a healthy, biblical manner, my exposure to non-biblical perspectives and content, and my relationships with peers. This technology was new to parents as well, and many were none the wiser to what information and entertainment their children were suddenly able to access.
Today, we no longer have that excuse; private, personal access to the Internet is here, and it is riddled with temptations and depraved content. Parents need to keep informed.
No real limits, no oversight
At age 13, I was surrounded by classmates using the iPod Touch, which had all the features of an iPhone except the option to place calls or texts without Wifi. Any app could be downloaded, any website accessed, and any game played.
I bought a second-hand iPod off of a classmate for $20, and a whole new world opened up to me; I could message my friends from home rather than having to call them on the landline! We could talk privately without being overheard, something that was of paramount value to awkward youths who had reached the age when nothing is more embarrassing than your parents overhearing you discuss crushes and the like.
Just girls reading Old Testament fiction…
Several apps began trending amongst my peers, one of which was an app and website anyone could use to write a book, and anyone else could use to read those books; all you needed to do was create an account. This was very popular amongst girls my age. A particular fictional favorite series in my class was set in Old Testament times; it was from a young woman’s point of view, and contained a fairly innocent love triangle. There was little harm in the series itself.
But the app contained scores of books, accessible to whoever desired to read them, and as we all began exploring the app, we discovered something else entirely: erotica.
I cannot count the number of poorly written stories I devoured. My parents had told me about the basics of sex, and about God’s design for it, but this new narrative was something completely different. It didn’t matter that I had been taught a biblical view of sex; I now had access to a different definition of it.
Curiosity can fester into a full-fledged addiction. We see this with drugs, alcohol, money – all of which are things that children raised in a God-fearing home do not have unhindered access to, things that parents can monitor with relative ease.
And it used to be simple to monitor your child’s access to pornography; it took bold action to get ahold of dirty magazines purchased at a corner store, and those magazines had to be hidden under a bed. Even when looking back on your lifetime to your own childhood, most if not all of parents would agree that children and teenagers did not have the same ready access to pornography then.
Today is not the same. If your child has a device, they have the possibility to discover virtually thousands of corner store magazine racks. And all of this in the palm of their hand.
Whether in the past or the present, children are not equipped with the discretion to navigate most conversations about sex, let alone sexual content and entertainment. By the age of 15, I had read hundreds of gratuitously graphic pieces of literary pornography; I was addicted.
The majority of these consisted of “fanfiction.”
… to erotic fan fiction
Fanfiction is defined by Google as “fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.” To give some further context, the popular and sexually charged book-turned-film franchise Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a fanfiction of the popular young adult vampire series Twilight.
There are different genres in fanfiction, one of which includes the “y/n” character, meaning “your name”; these stories are written as though from the reader’s point of view, and fuel fantasies in which the reader is inserted into romantic and sexual relationships with the characters from whatever story the fanfiction is inspired by. Young preteens can explore written fantasies in which they are the love interest of one or more of their favorite characters, fueling incredibly unrealistic ideals and twisted notions of healthy sexuality.
Another genre of fanfiction that is hugely popular is where two characters who do not have a romantic/sexual relationship in the original canonical story are given a new storyline. The vast majority of these “ships” (the slang term for relationships) are not heterosexual. Preteens and teens are lured in by extra content about their favorite characters, while gradually being desensitized to sexually graphic content. They can take their pick from hundreds of smutty stories about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Captain America’s Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Harry Potter’s Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, Merlin and Arthur, etc.
Even more alarming are the number of stories in which real people, generally celebrities, are “shipped” together. Does your child have a favorite secular music artist? Chances are, there are fanfictions out there about them. Most common among these are fanfictions about members of boy bands. There are stories in which two band members have a secret relationship behind the scenes, and fans don’t know; there are stories in which two band members – who live in an alternate universe and happen to be vampires, or rich CEOs of companies, or strippers, or baristas – meet and start dating. There are stories in which five plus members of a boy band are all members of a werewolf pack, and engage in polygamous sexual activities together.
As PluggedIn’s article on fanfiction puts it, “a major draw for fanfiction writers and readers is usually the exploration of forbidden romance.”
Maybe you have parental controls installed on your phone, and you think, “My child has no access to these sorts of things.” But fanfiction is literary, and it isn’t screened in the same way that visual pornography is. Children can access these stories by merely clicking “I accept” after reading a warning of graphic content.
Boys and their cartoons…
While I and many of my female peers were exploring these things, the boys were doing something similar. Many boys were watching “anime” on their iPods and iPhones. Anime is defined by Google as “a style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children.” Just as with the content on my writing/reading app, some of these anime shows were harmless, and even contained messages of loyalty, friendship, and other important themes.
If you’ve ever noticed your child watching an anime series, you may have thought it was merely an innocent cartoon, and not paid any further attention to it. But many anime series have overtly sexualized female character designs, with unnatural body proportions, and severely immodest clothing. Worse than that, many anime series contain graphic sexual scenes; there is even a category of anime geared specifically towards pornographic content.
Male peers admitted to me in later conversation that it was through anime that they discovered pornographic websites. As young teens, they had no credit cards to pay for authentic, licensed anime streaming sites, and so they accessed their anime shows through illegal websites, many of which had flashing advertisements on every page. Nearly every boy in my class and wider peer group was watching pornography on a regular basis by the age of sixteen; some of us girls were curious enough to check it out, too.
The pull parents didn’t understand
Our parents tried to keep an eye on what we were up to. But it was easy enough to convince them that we were simply reading a harmless book or watching a harmless cartoon. For some of us, our parents set a boundary of not having our electronic devices in our rooms when we went to bed, but we still had access to these things in the bathroom, on the school bus, even in the foyer at school.
If you passed by your child in the living room and saw them reading a paragraph or watching an animated show on their phone, how often would you sit next to them and see what they’re reading? Or, perhaps the more relevant question: what is the likelihood they would hide their screen immediately?
Many parents today fall into one of two categories:
- they don’t want to invade the privacy of their teens, and thus leave them to their devices
- or they constantly demand to know what their children are up to, leading their kids to become more aloof and secretive.
I remember being a young teen, and how I chafed against my mother’s occasional questions about what I was reading on my phone. I’d even blatantly lie about it for fear of the truth being discovered. I cannot imagine how much more I would have pulled away from her if she had badgered me about these things.
Leaving our kids defenseless
In Reformed circles, it is not uncommon for parents to refrain from teaching their children about sex before adulthood. In some cases, parents are so uncomfortable with this that they do not tell their children until they are preparing for marriage, or they do not tell them at all.
Some parents, in contrast, give their children too many details at too young an age. I have peers who fall into all of these categories. Finding the balance in this seems very difficult.
The biggest issue here is that, due to the prevalence of graphic sexual content available to today’s youth, many are learning about sex through erotic literature or visual pornography. Pornography is typically filmed by men, for men; erotica is typically written by women, for women. Men are creating a fantasy of what to expect from women in a sexual relationship, and women are creating a fantasy of what to expect from men in a sexual relationship.
The result is an incredibly narcissistic view of sexuality, stemming from a focus on the reader or viewer’s satisfaction, with no consideration for the other party and no understanding of God’s design for sex and the expression of love it is meant to be. When a boy or young man watches porn, he is buying into a fantasy where he has ultimate power, and the woman’s presence is meant for his pleasure alone. When a girl or young woman reads erotica, she is buying into a fantasy where a man is so utterly consumed by his need for her that he will do absolutely anything for her, as he cannot resist her near-goddess status. (Most females depicted in these books do not believe themselves to be attractive, feeding everyday women the narrative that the most attractive men out there will be attracted to them, and they should not “settle for less.”)
This sort of content creates a fantasy of self-worship. It teaches boys and girls to view sex through a greedy, twisted lens.
And it’s not slowing down.
Common Sense Media’s research report “Teens and Pornography” surveyed a demographically representative set of teens in the United States, and the collected data revealed that 72% of the teens surveyed they had seen pornography; of those, 54% saw it by age 13, including the 15% who saw it by age 11.
I am a Gen Z’er. The Oxford Dictionary defines Generation Z as
“the group of people who were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, who are regarded as being very familiar with the Internet.”
I would like to suggest a new definition: “The group of people born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s who have been, en masse, bombarded with pervasive, self-indulgent content – deemed acceptable under the label of expression – to the point that they have been convinced to take up the mantle of blurring the line between advancement and destruction.”
Better to pluck out your eyes
Roughly two years ago, I made the decision to leave social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, I deleted my accounts for all three. Very quickly I noticed an improvement in my moods, thought processes, and overall mental health.
But today’s modern message of the importance of identity and sexual expression is everywhere. It’s on Pinterest, in the form of an advertisement under the search bar titled, “Beyond blue and pink - Breaking down the binary.” It’s on YouTube, in the form of reaction videos in which you, the viewer, watch someone else react to a video, typically of a third “someone else.” There is no end to technology’s primary narrative: “It’s all about you.”
Youth today are growing up surrounded by a message that is directly contradictory to God’s Word. That’s just as true for the youth of the Church. Don’t be fooled into thinking your children are the exception; my parents did their best with what knowledge they had, but without directly monitoring my every move online, they had no way they could know the full extent of what I was accessing. As someone who grew up in the Church and in a Bible-teaching home, I could still write multiple articles on how today’s social environment and media made me question my sexuality, struggle with extremely low self-esteem, and buy into the notion that a message that contradicts Scripture is maybe not so harmful after all.
By the grace of God, the worst of those seasons are behind me, but there are still after-effects that have repercussions on my day-to-day life. Many peers I’ve spoken to about this express the same sentiment.
Not all e-books are harmful. Not all animation is harmful. In both categories, there are stories to be found with great messages. But they are the rare diamonds in a pile of coal, and parents must be made aware of the danger present in these forms of entertainment. On a broader scale, parents ought to know how many seemingly “harmless” things their children have access to, and the way it is affecting the development, lifestyles, and perspectives of youth across Western civilization as a whole.
If you do not want your child exposed to Internet or social media, but are looking for a smartphone alternative that offers calling and texting in case of emergencies, please consider the following options: the Light Phone (www.thelightphone.com) and the Gabb Phone (https://gabb.com).
Articles, Internet, Sexuality
Fund a film about fighting sexual temptation
"Into the Light" will equip God’s people to fight the pull of pornography This is an overview of an episode of Lucas Holvlüwer and Tyler Vander...
We can't save the world, and that's OK
What if our insatiable interest in the world’s injustices is really just an Edenic desire to be gods ourselves? ***** We are weary. Gloom and m...
Is our curiosity controlling us, or are we controlling it?
Curiosity can be downright lethal... and not only to cats. In our Internet age, curiosity can quickly take us where we must not go. But curiosity can also be a force for good. This investigative itch can drive us to discover more about God, digging deep into His Word, or heading out into His creation, magnifying glass in hand, to see all there is to see. In Curious: the Desire to Know and Why your Future Depends on It Ian Leslie makes a useful division between two main sorts of curiosity – epistemic and diversive. There isn’t simply “good” versus “bad” curiosity but more a matter of “focused” versus “unfocused," though as you might guess, the focussed sort is generally the more helpful sort. Diversive curiosity “Diversive curiosity” is, as Leslie puts it, an “attraction to everything novel” and it “manifests itself as a restless desire for the new and the next.” Leslie explains: The modern world seems designed to stimulate our diversive curiosity. Every tweet, headline, ad, blog post, and app at once promises and denies a satisfaction for which we are ever more impatient. This quest for the “new and next” isn’t necessarily bad – this is why new questions get asked, new interests are discovered, and new people are met. But Leslie argues that while “unfettered curiosity is wonderful; unchanneled curiosity is not.” What problem is there with unchanneled curiosity? It doesn’t fix itself on anything. It lacks purpose or discipline – diversive curiosity might start off well-intentioned, but if it has nothing to focus on then a search for “Calvin’s thoughts on art” can quickly turn into hours spent on “The art of Calvin and Hobbes.” Leslie recounts a question that was posted to Reddit: “If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about today?” The favorite answer was: “I possess a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.” We have access to an inexhaustible source of knowledge, right in our back pocket. Want to study Economics, or read Calvin's Institutes, or learn how to change the oil on your Toyota sequoia and it's all just a few key taps away. And when it comes to collaborations, we can call on people in the next town, the next state, or the next continent! But so long as we let our curiosity run free – flitting from one tweet, one game, one photo, one video to another – then this incredible potential will be unrealized. Channeled curiosity Here is where the second sort of curiosity comes in. “Epistemic curiosity” is curiosity with a purpose. Leslie describes this as a “deeper, more disciplined, and effortful type of curiosity.” This sort of curiosity pushes us after reading an intriguing blog post headline to go seek books on the same subject. It’s sustained curiosity. It’s directed curiosity. It’s the sort of curiosity that drives a boy to collect beetles and butterflies, and then when he wants to know more he heads to the library for books. It’s this sort of curiosity that has a girl trying out crayons and pens and pencils and paints to figure out how best she can draw a horse. To get good she’s going to need to sustain this appetite for paper and pen, but more importantly, she’ll need to steer clear of the constant stream of YouTube cat videos and other curiosities that are competing for her attention. Godly curiosity is fettered While Ian Leslie values unfettered curiosity, God expects our curiosity to be not only channeled but fettered too. There is every reason for Christians to be curious – God is infinite, and He’s given us a near-infinite universe to explore. But there are corners of it that we should not investigate. Article 13 of the Belgic Confession warns that we should not: …inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. Some of what God has done is too great for us to understand (election, for example) and when it comes to those matters we need to actively constrain our curiosity. We need to put on some fetters. There are also more earthy matters that we need to not investigate. We need to fetter our curiosity when it comes to: gossip – whether about people we know, or celebrities we don’t our rich neighbor's income sexuality – within marriage epistemic curiosity about sex can be a very good thing, but outside of, or before marriage, it can only cause trouble In other words, we shouldn’t be curious about matters beyond us, or matters that should be beneath us. Freeing us from distractions When it comes to diversive curiosity – the attraction to the new and next – there are no biblical texts telling us how many cat videos in a row are too many in a row. God hasn’t told us how many times we can check our Facebook newsfeed in an hour, or what time of night we need to turn off our phone. There are no stated limits as to how many tweets we can read, how many Instagram pictures we can view, how many blog posts we can click on, each day. So how can we know how much is too much? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a clue when it explains that Man’s purpose here on earth is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." How does that help? Well, if we’re too busy to pray, too busy to read the Bible, too busy to be a part of the communion of saints, too busy to act as God’s hands and feet here on earth, too busy with all sorts of distractions to glorify God, and too busy enjoying these distractions to enjoy God, then wherever the line might be, we can be sure we’re way over it! So how can we free ourselves from these distractions? Part of it will involve putting down the smartphone, tucking away the tablet, and turning off the computer. We could consider: Putting tight limits on family members’ screen time each week, with more severe constraints for the very young (many doctors suggest children under 2 shouldn’t watch TV at all) and for out-of-control kids. Shutting down the Internet for the evening (which still allows kids to use their devices to read) or the afternoon, or only having it on for weekends or for homework. Going on a month-long technology fast to allow your family to get proper priorities back in place – this is an option that most children will hate (and many an adult) but the more passionate the resistance, the stronger the case for this intervention. While these practical suggestions will be helpful they also aren’t enough. We need to address this as the sin problem that it is. When we can’t control our curiosity, when it controls us, we’re enslaved. When our curiosity doesn’t direct us to God, but distracts us from Him, we’re committing idolatry, making YouTube videos and Instagram pics our first priority. Instead, we can seek ways to direct our curiosity in a God-honoring fashion. Our God is infinite, so there’s no shortage of wonders to explore, whether that’s God Himself, His Word, His world, the bodies He gave us, the family He placed us in, the talents He chose for us, the friends He provided, or the communion of saints He surrounded us with. There’s no shortage of wonders to wonder about. May God help us control our curiosity, so that in this too all we do can honor Him....
The smartphone stack
You're out with some friends having a nice dinner. But one has been talking on his phone for the last ten minutes, and a second is managing to fork food into her mouth while still using both hands to type text messages. And the fourth member of your party is preoccupied with tracking down some YouTube video he just has to show everyone. So you're out with your friends for dinner but it seems an awful lot like eating alone. We've all experienced something similar... and put our friends through something similar. So how can we return a little decorum to our dinners-out? One suggestion making the rounds is something called "The Phone Stack." After everyone orders their meals all smartphones are placed in the center of the table, one on top of another, face down. Though the course of the meal it's simply a given that one of these, or all, are going to buzz, bing, or sing, but here's the kicker: no one is allowed to grab their phone until dinner and dessert is done. If someone feels they just have to pick up their phone, that's okay, but then they also have to pick up the check for the night! Can there be exceptions made? Maybe someone is a doctor on call, or a volunteer member of the local fire department, and just needs to check their messages. Yup, allowances for that kind of thing can be made. But for the rest of the group this is a fun way of ensuring we all connect with one another, rather than with our devices. And for those dining-in nights, a variation can be done involving who is going to do the dishes!...
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Internet
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place
by Andy Crouch 2017/ 220 pages Did you just binge multiple seasons of that show everyone is talking about over the weekend? Do you feel guilty for doing it? Do often lay on the couch and scroll Instagram and TikTok from the time you get home until you crawl into bed? Does your family see the back of your phone more than your face? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to read The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Crouch’s approach to technology is “almost almost Amish.” He does appreciate the many ways that technology has improved all aspects of our lives, but is wary of the “easy-everywhere” lifestyle that technology offers, especially within our homes. Technology may give us unlimited access to information, but it does not make us wise. It gives us a platform to speak, but it does not give us the conviction and character to act. Wisdom and courage can only be nurtured and grown with the help of our family, and of course the Church. Worship is the most important thing we can do, as Deuteronomy 6 reminds us, that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might. True worship with our brother and sisters in Christ calls us out of an “easy-everything” world back to “the burden of bearing the image of God” which brings us ultimate joy. Technology can derail this by addicting us to instant gratification. Crouch challenges readers to 10 commitments to detox from this “easy-everywhere” lifestyle, a detox my family and I have just begun.I would encourage anyone struggling with putting technology in its proper place to read this book. While not everyone lives in a single-family household, we are all part of the family of God, making these 10 commitments relevant to all. You can read an excerpt of the first 30 pages here and listen to a 6 minute interview with the author below. ...
20 Scriptures to guide our online speech
May God give us the humility to recognize how our online speech may be out of step with his calling on our lives ***** Scripture has a lot to say about how we wield our speech, and those passages are all the more important now that technological advances have greatly multiplied our ways and means of speech. So no, there is no proverb specifically about how to tweet, and we aren’t usually dictating our Facebook posts with our voice, but what we post on these social media platforms does fall under the umbrella of Scripture’s guidance on speech as much as words we literally utter with our mouths. Below are 20 passages of Scripture to guide our online speech. Let’s consider them as we engage with other image-bearers online: Is it true? The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy. - Proverbs 12:22 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. - Psalm 34:13 Do you need to say it? Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. - Ephesians 4:29 Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin. - Proverbs 13:3 Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. - Proverbs 10:19 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. - Matthew 12:36 Is it helpful? Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. - Colossians 4:5-6 Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. - Proverbs 16:24 Is it quarrelsome? Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. - 1 Peter 3:9 It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. - Proverbs 20:3 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. - James 1:19 With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape. - Proverbs 11:9 The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating. - Proverbs 18:6 Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. - Proverbs 10:6 What does it say about your heart? A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. - Luke 6:45 Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. - Ecclesiastes 10:12 The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. - Proverbs 15:4 Does it praise God? Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. - James 3:10 My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long. - Psalm 71:8 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. - Psalm 19:14 Conclusion May God bless you today. And may he graciously give us the humility to hold our digital tongues unless we intend to build up others or point others to his goodness. A version of this article appeared in Chris Martin’s "Terms of Service" newsletter, which looks at the social internet from a Christian perspective – you can sign up for it at www.TermsOfService.social. Get his new book of the same name at many online retailers. His article is reprinted here with permission....
3 reasons to praise God for social media
As a default, I tend to call attention to the problems that social media, and our relationship with it, has introduced into our lives. Social media ha...
Proverbs: 3,000 years ahead of its time
Solomon did not have a web page. He didn’t blog. He didn’t tweet. He wasn’t on Snap Chat or Instagram. But he can still help you navigate the se...
Internet, Media bias
3 simple reasons we believe misinformation
We use the internet as a therapeutic, and do so at the cost of truth ***** Last week I came across a great article in the MIT Technology Review called, “Why Generation Z Falls for Online Misinformation.” The article highlights a handful of reasons why the youngest, most savvy purveyors of internet culture become victims of misinformation themselves. What makes the article such a good read is the sort of paradox it plumbs. The young people who make up Gen Z are supposed to be smarter about this kind of stuff than their Boomer parents or grandparents, right? How are these internet curators and trend-setters getting duped themselves? In many of the same ways that we all can get tricked by news or other information we see online. Here are three simple ways we can all fall prey to misinformation: 1) In our whirlwind world, we inherently trust people like us. This is highlighted in the MIT article I cite above. With faster, more pervasive communication and information transfer today than ever before in history, sifting through all of the data, news, commentary, and all the rest of the content we come into contact with on any given day can feel truly, and terrifyingly, overwhelming. It’s like we constantly exist within a hurricane of information, hot takes, and content somewhere in between. We aren’t meant to drink in all of the content we consume. As Neil Postman wrote in 1985, “How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television…causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken?” When we become overwhelmed by the content glut to which we are helplessly addicted our discernment is fractured and we begin to rely on less-than-reliable rationales for trusting people on the internet. Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “The credibility of the teller is the ultimate test of truth of a proposition.” He was bemoaning this sad reality, not endorsing it, and it has perhaps never been more true (like so much of what Postman wrote in Amusing). As Jennifer Neda John wrote for MIT Technology Review: As young people participate in more political discussions online, we can expect those who have successfully cultivated this identity-based credibility to become de facto community leaders, attracting like-minded people and steering the conversation. While that has the potential to empower marginalized groups, it also exacerbates the threat of misinformation. People united by identity will find themselves vulnerable to misleading narratives that target precisely what brings them together. When we have bound ourselves to constant content consumption we create a situation in which we are easily overwhelmed with information and opinions—this sense of overwhelm is scary and real and it reduces our standards of discernment and leaves us vulnerable to being led astray by people who look like us, live like us, or believe like us. 2) We consume content too quickly to fact-check sources. This idea is pretty straightforward, but it is perhaps the most common and endemic to social media. As Ms. John writes in that same MIT article: election rumor appeared among dozens of other posts in teenagers’ TikTok feeds, leaving them with little time to think critically about each claim. Any efforts to challenge the rumor were relegated to the comments. The whole idea of most social media platforms, especially quick-hit ones like TikTok or Instagram Stories, is to consume lots of short content for as long as possible. YouTube’s strategy tends to be built around keeping you on the platform to watch longer-form, minutes-long content. TikTok and other platforms deliver you content that is largely less than a minute long as quick bites to be consumed in large quantities. Let’s explore a hypothetical scenario. My wife and I have just finished dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and are scrolling our phones while watching Netflix like any other self-respecting 30-year-old couple. I come across a TikTok that, in 45 seconds, explains why the moon landing may have been faked. I am intrigued so I tap over to the user’s profile and watch other videos he or she have created around other conspiracy theories—one on how LBJ actually had JFK killed, one on aliens, one on people disappearing near caves around the U.S. I’ve just trained the TikTok algorithm that conspiratorial content is of interest to me, and now I’m likely to get more. I flip back over to my For You Page. I see a funny video of a dog chasing a pet hamster around a living room obstacle course. I favorite a mac-and-cheese casserole recipe to try making next week. Then I see a video suggesting the American education system is designed to undermine rural children’s education to encourage them to stay on the farm and not go to college. Interesting. I swipe up again to see a highlight from last night’s Cubs game. I swipe again and hear a creepy voice explaining the secret family of Adolf Hitler, asking rhetorical questions designed to make one wonder about if Hitler’s family still has some sort of power today. Only three minutes have passed since I began scrolling. The seemingly random smattering of content that I consume in fewer than 200 seconds has left me no real margin to investigate the weird ideas that wiggled their way into my feed unless I decide to do a deep dive into Wikipedia or Google and investigate those claims. “Nah,” I think, “I’m scrolling to be entertained, not educated,” and I’ll always kinda wonder if Hitler’s family is secretly running some multinational dark government. Not really, but this is a general idea of this concept: many of the most popular social media apps in the world are designed for mass consumption of micro content in a short period of time, and this inhibits our ability to discern what is true or real. 3) Our relationship with the internet is meant to be therapeutic at the cost of being realistic. Though it often fails us in this regard, many of us come to the internet, and social media specifically, to feel good. We come to the internet to laugh at humorous content, cry at touching content, or otherwise be entertained and made to feel good. It should be noted that the most popular internet platforms in the world—Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Google, Tiktok, etc.—know that our primary motivation to engage with the internet is to be made to feel good, even if maybe we don’t recognize it or wouldn’t admit it. Because these platforms know that we log on to the internet to feel good or otherwise have our needs fulfilled, they have designed their experiences to reinforce these feelings and make us feel good. When they make us feel good, we spend more time on their platforms. Because our primary value when using the internet is to feel good, any value that clashes with this value will lose, and the clash will affect how we use the internet moving forward. If we use the internet to feel good, but our daily interactions with people on Facebook make us feel bad, then we will likely stop using Facebook. If we use the internet to feel good, but we can never find a show we want to watch on Hulu, we may unsubscribe from Hulu. It follows, then, that if we use the internet to feel good, and the news we consume about the world makes us feel bad, we will either: a) stop consuming news altogether, or b) consume “news” or other facts that make us feel good whether or not they are real. We use the internet as a therapeutic at the cost of truth. Because of our therapeutic abuse of the internet, that which makes us feel good will always take precedence over that which is true. Christians are as guilty of finding their joy and their comfort in the internet as anyone else. To think we as a community of faith are somehow “above” this particular kind of brokenness is foolish. False until proven true Foundational to preventing ourselves from being tricked into believing and sharing that which is not true is not letting our engagement with the internet have the central role in our lives that it so often does. We should consume (and create) less internet content. We should not see the internet as a means of feeling better about our lives. Let me share what has helped me as I have spent the last six months auditing my relationship with the internet. As I have worked to live a more offline life, the most effective tool for me has been setting time limits for my favorite apps and limiting the times of day I can engage with these apps. When I restrict the duration and times of day I engage with content on the internet, I spend a lot less time looking at my screens and a lot more time looking at the world around me. This has helped me realize that the digital world is secondary to the physical world. Likewise, and this may sound a bit negative, but I just have sort of come to assume anything I read on the internet needs to be confirmed by multiple, diverse outlets before I consider it “true.” I think if we just go into our relationship with the internet with the understanding that much of what we see or hear or read is actually “false until proven true” then we may go a long way toward not being duped into believing untruths. This originally appeared in Chris Martin’s “terms of service” Jul. 12, 2021 blog/newsletter and is reprinted with permission. “Terms of service” looks at the social internet from a Christian perspective and comes in both a free and paid subscription, either of which you can sign up for at www.termsofservice.social....
You believe you are the center of the universe
David Foster Wallace was an American thinker and writer, best known for his novel Infinite Jest. He passed away in 2008, which is a loss to all of us because we could desperately benefit from his thinking right now. In 2005, just a few years before his death, he gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College that has become known as the “This Is Water” speech. It was turned into a very short book which you can buy here if you’re so inclined (I bought a used copy for, like, $3). Much of Wallace’s speech is focused on how the liberal arts are designed to teach us how to think differently and maybe get a bit outside of ourselves so that we may have a bit more critical awareness of ourselves, to realize, “a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.” He goes into one such example here (bolding mine, italics his): Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default setting, hardwired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real. You get the idea. First, the comment about our self-centeredness being our “default setting” struck me as soon as I read it because when I talk to the students in our youth ministry about original sin, I use the “default setting” language and they get it. But isn’t this posture true of all of us, not just Wallace? It’s really just natural to see yourself as the center of the universe, even apart from the sinfulness of it, because you see the entire experience of life from your perspective. As close as you are to your spouse or your children or your church family, it is impossible for you to literally experience life as they do. No amount of time or investment of social energy can lead us to truly live life in through the eyes of others. How easy is it, then, for everyone in our lives to become characters in a movie all about us? Our spouse is the love interest of the main character. Our boss is the curmudgeonly-but-lovable villain who means well but is too old-fashioned for his own good. Our kids are the comic relief and the way we learn about our own selfishness. Everyone else is just extras on our movie set. Wallace is right: our default setting is to see the entire world in relation to ourselves. We never think about the fact that we are actually a supporting actor in someone else’s movie. The connection to social media and the broader age of the social internet ought to be clear, right? Social media perpetuates the idea that we are the main character in our own story. It allows us to take our personal movie to market and share it with the world. It’s no fun being the star of your own movie if no one else can experience it. But now, with the innovation of social media, we can take our performance on the road and show everyone that we are the stars of our own lives. The Christian implications of this phenomenon are many. Perhaps we are best off seeing ourselves as supporting actors or even extras in God’s story at which Jesus Christ is the star. God is the star of the human experience. If you’ve ever wondered about or maybe been skeptical about social media perpetuating self-centeredness, this should ease your skepticism and confirm your wonderings. The idea that social media is a neutral tool equally possible to be used for good or bad is genuinely foolish. I used to believe this, so I’m not being critical of anyone in particular here. I am a convert from this wrong-headed idea. As you tap and swipe and scroll, consider how your favorite social media platforms may be training you to see yourself as the center of your universe, and perhaps as the center of others’ universes. How does this change how you view other people? Perhaps it makes you see them as less important and their needs as unfortunate consequences of not being the main character of the story. The pings and red dots and notifications and hearts and thumbs-ups on all of our manicured content feigning authenticity reinforces the reality that “there is no experience that you were not at the absolute center of.” This originally appeared in Chris Martin’s “terms of service” Feb. 26, 2021 blog/newsletter and is reprinted with permission. “Terms of service” looks at the social internet from a Christian perspective and comes in both a free and paid subscription, either of which you can sign up for at www.termsofservice.social....
Do we "like" sin?
Welcome to the Information Age. With apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we now have a window into the lives of our friends, family, acquaintances and even complete strangers. Business owners can now Google prospective employees, parents can check Instagram to vet new friends of their children, and a woman can search Facebook about a potential boyfriend. We can track down long lost friends from high school and keep in touch with family around the world. The benefits are evident in our churches too, in how we can share information about prayer requests, children’s illnesses, bus routes being late, weather conditions, and new study groups. Via these social media forums, users are connected together in an online virtual world where our interests and ideas can be shared at the speed of light to our online peers. We can share articles that we deem interesting or important, and we can take political stands on issues. With a click of the button, we can friend and follow almost anyone we want. We like or dislike our way through thousands of gigabytes of information, telling everyone our favorite TV shows, games, authors, preachers, speakers and much more. But how does our online presence reflect our allegiance? Do our likes match up with God’s own? Many brothers and sisters seem to disconnect the online version of themselves from the real (or maybe their social media presence is their true self?). Christians will watch horrific godless shows and discuss them and like them on Facebook. Some may share photos of themselves in provocative poses with minimal clothing, or share pictures of drunken partying. We’ll fight with others online, speaking wrathfully, and assume the worst of whomever we’re arguing with. Disputes with our consistory, or our spouse, will be aired publicly and captured for all eternity. We’ll speak derisively about our employers, or our minister, family members, or friends. Online Christians will use filthy language, or casually take God’s name in vain in ways that they would not in the offline world. The Bible calls this disconnect an unstable “double-mindedness” (James 1:8, 22-25) – we are trying to be two people, each serving a different master (Matthew 6:24). Not only are we responsible for how we present ourselves online, we’re responsible for what we like and follow. When we see pictures of brothers and sisters sinning and like them, when we click thumbs up to a godless show, or blasphemous musician do we understand what we are telling everyone? Though it may take little thought – just a quick click of the mouse and a friendly like or thumbs up – what we are saying is I agree, I like this, I love this, this is good. Though it seems harmless, this is encouragement. When I sin and someone says good job,they are enabling me. That is not love. That is sinful. It is wicked. We should not condone sin whether online or off. In fact, we should love one another enough to be willing to privately approach and hold our brothers and sisters accountable. Maybe we think this a task better suited to elders. But not all consistory members are on these online forums. They don’t always know what is happening on Facebook or Instagram. And it is not their job to follow every one of us everywhere we go. As brothers and sisters in the Lord, we need to hold each other accountable out of love for each other (Eccl. 4:9-12). And we need to do so out of love for our Lord – the world will get their ideas of Who He is based in large part on how we, his ambassadors, act. Finally, whether we sin in daily life or online, God sees. In a world of both hate and tolerance, filth and fanaticism, we need to be careful not only in how we behave online, but also in what we like, share and post and therefore condone, as well....
Charles Spurgeon with some advice for the Internet age
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) died a century before Mankind mastered the ability to pass along unverified news stories and unfounded rumors at the speed of light. But while the medium is new, the sin of gossip isn’t, and Spurgeon’s warning remains as relevant as ever. **** What a pity that there’s no tax on words: what an income the government would get from it. And if lies paid double, we could pay off the National Debt! But, alas, talking pays no tax. Silence is golden Now if men only said what was true, what a peaceable world it would be. But we pass on hearsay. And hearsay is half lies – consider how a tale never loses in the retelling of it. As a snowball grows by rolling, so does the story. So those who talk much, lie much. While silence rarely causes mischief; too much talking can be a plague to the parish. Since silence is wisdom, it’s clear, then, that wise men and wise women are scarce. As they say, still waters are the deepest, but the shallowest brooks babble the most. An open mouth shows an empty head. It’s like a treasure chest – if it had gold or silver in it, it wouldn’t always be standing wide open. Talking comes naturally for us, but it takes a good deal of training to learn to be quiet; yet regard for truth should put a bit into every honest man's mouth and a bridle on every good woman's tongue. Be free of slander If we must talk, at least let us be free from slander. Spreading slander may be fun for some, but it is death to those they abuse. We can commit murder with the tongue as well as with the hand. The worst evil you can do a man is to injure his character. As the Quaker said to his dog, "I'll not beat thee, nor abuse thee, but I'll give thee an ill name." The world, for the most part, believes that where there is smoke there is fire, and what everybody says must be true. Let us be careful, then, that we do not hurt our neighbor in so tender a spot as to besmirch his character, for it is hard to get dirt off, once it is thrown. When a man finds himself put in people's bad books, he might never be able to get out of them. So, again, if we want to be sure not to speak wrongly, it might be just as well to speak as little as possible; for if all men's sins were divided into two bundles, half of them would be sins of the tongue. "And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body" (James 3:2). The solution So, gossips, give up the shameful trade of tale-spreading; don't be the devil's bellows, giving more air to the fire of strife. If you are going to talk, at least season your tongues with the salt of grace – praise God more, and blame neighbors less. Any goose can cackle, any fly can find a sore place, and any empty barrel can make a big noise. But the flies will not go down your throat if you keep your mouth shut, and no evil talk will come out either. So think much, but speak little; be quick at work and slow at talk; and, above all, ask the great Lord to set a watch over your lips. This is an abridged, modernized, version of Chapter 6, "On Gossips" from Charles Spurgeon’s “The Ploughman Talks.”...
Internet, Media bias
Wikipedia: reader beware
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Facebook…to God’s glory
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Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting
13 quick thoughts on "Screen-Smart Parenting"
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