WeeklyTech #99

Taking the Long View: Digital Culture and the Desire for Influence

This summer, I have spent a considerable amount of time in the wisdom literature particularly in the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the letter of James in the New Testament. It all began earlier this year as I was struck during my daily bible reading by how applicable these sections of Scripture are to our daily lives, especially in the digital age where we are constantly bombarded with digital distractions and an overabundance of information. As my pastor said a few weeks ago, the church has “an information overload and an obedience deficit.” So many of these digital tools that we use each day are designed to make our lives easier or more efficient. And in some ways, these tools accomplish that very goal. But in other ways, it seems that we fall prey to the temptation that Canadian philosopher George Grant spoke of in his well known work, Technology and Justice, when he said “more technology is needed to meet the emergencies which technology has produced.” In the midst of cultural chaos, we often turn toward technology to solve the very problems brought on by the technology itself as some decry that we need more moderation or better technology in order to solve the apparent divides in our society.

While this is understandable to a degree given how fast paced and complex many of the challenges we face in the digital age are, I am convinced that one of the most beneficial practices we can adopt in this technological age is to recover the art of wisdom, especially as we seek to navigate real controversy and disagreements in society. To do this, we not only need to see how technology is shaping how we view ourselves and people around us, but also how technology is designed in ways that easily give way to division and ratchet up tension. The recovery of wisdom is not going to be easy and to some it may look like a retreat from the divisions of the day, but wisdom calls us to take the long view rather than always trying to seek the immediate reward or gratification of the digital age.

Social media platforms give us access to more information each day than we ever thought possible. There has truly been a democratization of information in the digital age. Today we can learn of things happening around the world in an instant and these same tools give everyone the ability to share their message with the masses. Social media initially was conceived as a way to connect the world and bring people closer together, but after a few scrolls on Twitter or Facebook you will quickly realize that it seems our society is more divided than ever before. You commonly hear the refrain that “Twitter is not real life” and that is true to some extent but it does represent many of the divisions we face in society. Twitter’s customer base may be small compared to that of other major media platforms such as Facebook, but it wields an enormous influence on the digital public square and on public discourse, given how it is designed for engagement and the type of users it attracts.

One of the quickest ways to build a significant following online, especially on Twitter, is to constantly share content but also to stoke the cultural division we are experiencing each day. While not everyone with a large following does this, it is well known and time tested that sharing hot-takes, blanket statements, and divisive content online is a sure fire way to increase your engagement and reach online. People who already agree with you share it and those who vehemently disagree also share it in order to show how much they disagree with you or how wrong you are. The more you share and people notice, the wider reach you receive and the larger base you build. Though many soon realize the old adage “what you win them with, you will keep them with” is true, it becomes an exhausting feedback loop that is ultimately untenable in the long term. This is extremely important to remember on social media because soon people will grow numb to lite outrage and you have to keep it up or even add to it in order to keep people engaged over the long haul, much like how pornography dulls the senses over time. 

The reality is that wisdom, charity, and nuance aren’t often rewarded in the digital age, but they will be in the age to come. What may gain you instant notoriety and reach may ultimately rot your soul as well as those who follow in your footsteps. Taking the long view of life is at the core of the biblical wisdom tradition. It is about understanding the reality of who God is, what he has done for us in Christ, and how we do not need to strive in order to be recognized or validated. Ecclesiastes 9:17 says, “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” While there is much more to be said on these issues (and I hope I will be able to cover them more in depth in my next book Following Jesus in the Digital Age with B&H that I am writing this summer) suffice it to say, sometimes the best thing you can do for your soul and for those around you is to put down your phone, stop striving for recognition, and take the long view of the cultural crises around us by slowing down and prioritizing people over points on the board of the so-called culture wars.

The Rundown

Facebook launches Bulletin, its Substack competitor – Issie Lapowsky | Protocol

On Tuesday, Facebook launched a new platform for independent writers, called Bulletin, setting the company up as a direct competitor to Substack’s growing newsletter business.

Just War & Cybersecurity: The Old World Can Help Us with the New – Mark LiVecche | Providence

This is to say that addressing cyberattacks is essentially no different than addressing any kind of attack. Therefore, just war tradition, though crafted over centuries well before such things as cyberspace could even be imagined, is nevertheless well-fitted for helping us think through familiar issues of just cause and discriminate and proportionate response.

Is Facebook a monopoly? Please define, says judge – Eileen Guo | MIT Technology Review

Judge James Boasberg of the DC Circuit Court sided with the company in its motion to dismiss two separate lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of 48 states in December, ruling that the case was “legally insufficient” to prove that the company had a monopoly on social media—specifically, that it did not prove Facebook had “in excess of 60%” control of the social media market as alleged. 

A Hippocratic Oath for your AI doctor – Bryan Walsh | Axios

Health is one of the most promising areas of expansion for AI, and the pandemic only accelerated the adoption of machine learning tools. But adding algorithms to health care will require that AI can follow the most basic rule of human medicine: “Do no harm” — and that won’t be simple.

How Pandemic ‘Zoom Church’ Revealed Long-Brewing Bible Illiteracy – Dr. Dru Johnson | The Biblical Mind

It’s as if we had been coopted by a massive fake-it-until-we-make-it church worship movement via video-conferencing. In fact, the church in America has been bleeding something that would have made each home a capable site of worship in the meantime of COVID: basic Bible understanding.

The future of IDs is in your eyes – Erica Pandey | Axios

Technology has advanced to the point where we can pay for lunch by walking out of the store or send money to anyone, anywhere in seconds. But some things are stuck in the past — for example, it’s a huge pain to leave IDs or health insurance cards at home — and that’s what CLEAR is trying to change.

Team Trump quietly launches new social media platform – Meridith McGraw, Tina Nguyen, and Cristiano Lima | Politico

The site, called GETTR, advertised its mission statement as “fighting cancel culture, promoting common sense, defending free speech, challenging social media monopolies, and creating a true marketplace of ideas.” The app is currently in beta form and will be officially launched on July 4 at 10a.m.