Friday, December 02, 2011

Behind Every Digital Facade is a Person

DATE: 2 Dec 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor 5:16-17)

The world is changing. Everyone knows that. The world is changing fast. Most people know that. The world is changing us too. How many of us know that? Most importantly, in a world where people are increasingly becoming virtual, we can easily forget that behind every digital presence is a person that Christ died for. Before I get into that, let me address how the digital new has come to dominate the conventional old.

A) Changing Technological Landscape

The new has come. The old has passed away. Those who pooh-pooh away mainframes and open systems by trumpeting the rise of the PCs, are now grappling with the rise of a new tablet and smartphones era. Those who swear by Microsoft 10 years ago, are biting their tongues as they see Google sweep the search engine crown. Companies that rely heavily on traditional modes of marketing are doing catch-up to the rise of the new social network environment that is fast changing the way people do business. What is new yesterday is commodity tomorrow. What is breakthrough today will be ancient within the next few days. Social media is changing the world. More particularly, it is changing our lifestyles, and even us personally. In a changing technological landscape, we need to be on our guard, that when we try to get into the world of digital breakthroughs, we do not lose ourselves. We do not let the new technologies define who we are. It is God who defines us, not us.

Implication: It used to be man trying to make technology behave like man. Now the tide seems to be reversing. Loving God means letting God define who we are. Not technology.

A) Changing Language

We speak in a language that is also changing rapidly. A three-word 'I love you' has been replaced by a three-letter 'lol' (lots of love, in short).  A 140-word email has been outgunned by a 140-character Twitter message. What is paid subscription yesterday, is free today. Take a look at the people who are catching up on news. The elderly, the older adults read printed newspapers. Younger ones read news feeds on their smartphones, tablets, or portable computers. The old takes time to read, to enjoy, and perhaps to reflect their thoughts on what they read to their buddies sitting opposite them. The young zips through their reading by scanning, by rushing, and by quick forwarding to all their friends digitally to their buddies sitting halfway across the world. As our world becomes more digital, more Internet-driven, people becomes more virtual in their interactions, and perhaps more driven to discover the next big thing. A decade ago, there is this popular phrase: "We live in a world where it is no longer the big that eats up the small but the fast that outruns the slow." Even the venerable face of the Internet, the EMAIL, is now being threatened into extinction by Facebook and Twitter.

Implication: Loving our neighbour means learning to speak the language of our neighbours.

B) Changing Influence Mediums

With the rising popularity of the social media networks, even this phrase has changed. It is no longer the fast that outruns the slow, but the ones with the largest following, the most connected, and the most read that are marginalizing the strong, the fast, and the powerful. It is no longer a world of relationships, but a world of NETWORKS of relationships. Welcome to a viral world. It is a world where traditional boundaries of command, control, and conquer disappear. It is a world where what is private today becomes public tomorrow. It is a world in which both truths and untruths are disseminated at such an alarming scale and rate, that both are tolerated in a crucible of free speech and liberal expression.

The catchphrase used by Vegas marketers, 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' has been replaced. What happens anywhere is now distributed speedily and staying indelibly in cyberspace.  Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are more popular (based on their follower numbers) in the social network than the most powerful President on planet earth.

Implication: Do not be distracted by the lack of followers on your Twitter or too few friends on your Facebook account. A few good friends who know you are more invaluable than thousands of faceless individuals.

C) Changing Method of Engagement

I believe that the Christian community needs to be aware of the changing climate. The new name cards are becoming less of 'telephone/fax/address/email' but more of 'Facebook-Twitter-cellphone' social media instead. While the methods and networks are changing, people are not. Though people's communications pattern may alter, their personality and basic needs are not. After all, it is one thing to grow your cow population in Farmville. It is yet another to bite into a real, beefy, juicy hamburger complete with lettuce on a sesame seed bun, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. It is one thing to silence computer speakers. It is yet another to try to keep our lit on our current emotional state. Regardless of how fast the world is changing, humanly speaking, our needs are the same. We need friends. We need hope. We need love. No amount of digital connectivity can claim to be the do-all, be-all, and become-all. Hug a computer and you will see what I mean. The warmth that you can may be due to the radiation from the computers, but that contributes nothing to emotional intimacy. The key to being intimate is in Christ.

Paul writes to the Corinthian Church, all pumped up about his new identity in Christ. It is a transformational experience too good to keep to himself. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells of his hope in the heavenly kingdom. He speaks of being clothed and readied for a heavenly dwelling It is God who guarantees what is to come. This is the essence of hope, a hope in God. It is this hope that causes him to be willing to let go of the old selves, and to take on the new person, in Christ. The new has come. The old has passed away. This kind of newness can never be outlived by the digital titans of the world. Chances are, technologies will be outgunned by one another in a never ending race of being better so as to survive a little while longer. In a digital world, the stark fact is this. Stop development and your work will die. Maintain development and your work will not die so quickly. Continue innovation and perhaps your work will live a wee bit longer. The point is, the things of this world will die. They will pass away.

Implication: We live in a world where technology is rapidly outlasting itself. We are in the digital world but not OF the digital world. God will always outlast anything, even technology.

D) Behind the Digital Facade....

Not the things of God. Not Christ. Souls are of bigger concern to God. That is why Jesus came. That is why God continues to keep His Promise, His Covenant. In a digital world, this has not changed.  Behind every Twitter account is a person. Behind every Facebook address is an individual. Behind every presence on the Internet is a person that Jesus has died for. Forget about those electronic robots and spam spiders. Do not be distracted by those Internet marketing gimmicks and messages. Even behind these innovations, there is a human person just like the rest of us. Behind the digital facade, the needs have not really changed. Knowing that behind every digital facade is a person reminds us that loving our neighbour extends also to the digital platform. Technology may change fast. People do not change as fast. Technology may become obsolete. Not people. Technology may be new, but there is something that is newer every morning. It is the steadfast love of the Lord. It is the love that is newer and better than any social media network or technological brilliance. Looking with eyes of love is better than loving the eyes of technology.

May we all remember that behind every digital facade, there is a person. We may always be called to invent new technologies. We are always called to love people, both in the real world, and in the digital world. Let me close with John Ortberg's words, from his book, "Everybody's normal till you get to know them" simply because everybody is weird, one way or another. More importantly, everyone has a common need as follows:

"The yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved, is the fiercest longing of the soul. Our need for community with people and the God who mad us is to the human spirit what food and air and water are to the human body. The need will not go away even in the face of all the weirdness." (18)

Do not just read the person's digital profile, or Facebook page. Know the person personally. Do not just twitter to the thousands of faceless individuals. Talk with people to know them more.

Turn off your computer once in a while. Have coffee with a friend. Buy lunch. Chat without your computers or phone. Be available offline as you disconnect online on a periodic basis. That way, we remind ourselves on a regular basis, that behind every digital facade is a person who needs Christ. Like us.


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