There were two things that always confused me as a boy–the existence of the op-ed and of the popularity of Tabloid Magazines. Herbert Swope, the innovator of the op-ed, suggested that its purpose was to “print opinions, ignoring facts.” The op-ed gives anyone a voice, no matter how unfounded the things they say may be. The purpose of the Tabloid Magazine is to “print gossip and slander, ignoring facts.” Differences aside, you can begin to understand my dislike of both. One of my earliest childhood memories was that of walking through a check out line at a grocery store in Northeast Philly with my grandmother. I remember the first time that I saw the Enquirer–which was, at that time, one of the most popular Tabloid Magazine in America. When I asked my dad about it, he made sure that I understood that it was altogether “worthless trash.” To this day, whenever I walk through a check out line at a grocery store, my soul abhors even a two second gaze at the cover of one of the many Tabloid Magazines that tower over the check-out conveyer belt like tacky wallpaper. Sadly, many in the church have turned the internet into one all-encompassing op-ed, Tabloid Magazine. Whether in blogs, blog comments, podcasts, sermons, Facebook, Twitter or You Tube, Christians have essentially bound together the op-ed of the New York Times with Star Magazine and the Gutenberg Bible. “Concern for biblical fidelity” has become the linguistic Trojan horse for gossip, slander, vitriol and pride; and, we’re all guilty, and we know it. In many respects, we’re still on the frontier of this thing we call the internet, as it has only existed for less than 20 years. That’s a drop in a bucket in the grand scheme of history. Nevertheless, here’s a recap of what I’ve experienced and observed over the past 13 years:
I sent three emails to a girl I liked when I was 19, but quickly got tired of this new and strange thing of trying to keeping up a long-distance relationship online. I attempted to download some jam band bootlegs on Napster when I was 22, but got tired of waiting for the server to respond to my requests. That was basically the extent of my use of the internet from 1997 until 2001. Just a few months after I was converted, I found this amazing site called Monergism. I spent hours reading Reformed books and articles. Ministries like Ligonier, Desiring God, Truth for Life and Grace to You were already in place in the late 90’s–giving us access to some of the best teaching and preaching in the world. Most of us were introduced to the greatest living theologians on account of the labors of these ministries. What was once the unchartered territory of technology, had become the new frontier of an online theological gold rush. With the advent of Challies.com in 2003 and Between Two Worlds in 2006, the Evangelical world was hit with a theological wave. Many of us were thrilled to be riding this wave. But all was not well in the land of media milk and honey.
The internet rapidly became a echo chamber of unfiltered, uncharitable clamor. Anyone who had a voice felt as though they needed to herald that voice online. We all became guilty of rushing into the jungle of controversies in the comment sections of blogs, while convincing ourselves that it was safe to do so behind the seemingly impenetrably shield of a laptop. The comment section taught us that even those who did not seem to be particularly contentious in person had plenty of love for controversy tucked away neatly in their hearts. Battle wounds abounded. M-16’s were used where simple clarifying questions might have sufficed. With every new edifying web site came a dozen harmful blogs. The remaining depravity of our hearts was seen in their vitriolic words that we placarded online.
In 2006, the face (pun intended) of media changed forever. Facebook and Twitter became the mass aggregate weapons of our day. Anything said by everyone with whom you’re connected was now in front of you. Unless you are one of those rare type-A, organizational machines, you probably didn’t taken the time to filter the information you would want to see–which means that you now see everything that algorithms decide you will see. Social media are such powerful weapons that they have even been employed to fuel a national revolution. As Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative explains: “In the same way that pamphlets didn’t cause the American Revolution, social media didn’t cause the Egyptian revolution. Social media have become the pamphlets of the 21st century, a way that people who are frustrated with the status quo can organize themselves and coordinate protest, and in the case of Egypt, revolution.” Rather than seeking to overthrow Satan’s kingdom, many in the church have decided to overthrow those, in the body, who they dislike.