Most Internet users report that computer communication is...very intimate. Exchanges over the Internet give people a feeling of being present with each other. This characteristic of the Internet is often difficult to comprehend for people who have not used the network. The sense of intimacy is not limited to times when the Internet is used to communicate directly with another person. Even home pages give a sense of intimacy.Still, there are people who are itching to get out of Cyberspace and back into "the real world." What are their reasons? According to author Clifford Stoll, when you use the network, "you are entering a non-existent universe...a soluble tissue of nothing.... Life in the real world is far more interesting, far more important, far richer, than anything you'll ever find on the computer screen." Stoll's argument gives us an incentive to make the Internet an ocean of something rather than nothing. The Internet is not to be an escape from the real world, but a tool which helps us understand it. By virtue of connecting the real world of America with the real world of the mission field, we transcend Stoll's suggestion, transforming something which might seem on the surface to be impersonal into a very personal tool used for God's glory.
Russell Baker calls the underlying assumption of the Information Superhighway "fatally defective" because "the modern world is not dying for want of more information... its plight is too much information." As a result the world is being "battered senseless, then buried under avalanches of information."
The world is indeed full of information, and the Internet provides a new way to store and share this sea of knowledge. Yet it also provides the user with a compass for navigating through Cyberspace. Helpful information can usually be easily found on-line, and if it is not readily accessible, an e-mail message to the Webmaster or system operator of the on-line service can usually point a person in the right direction. The World Wide Web has numerous search utilities which anyone can use to find relevant information more easily.
Baker comments, "It is hard to see how it is going to bless the substantial part of the population that (a) can't afford the machinery and (b) lacks the know-how to make it work." These are legitimate concerns, but they have already been answered.
In Central Kentucky, which is far from being "Cyberspace Headquarters," there is a volunteer society" at work educating individuals in order to bring the community up to speed and keep it up to date on all computer-related issues, including the various aspects of the Internet. A friend of mine is also working with a non-profit organization called "Forward in the Fifth," which is in the process of providing Internet access and education for those in the poorest areas of Appalachian Kentucky.
Given the amount of progress that is taking place in Kentucky and elsewhere, it is reasonable to assume these concerns are being answered. The problems of lack of access to and education about the information superhighway do exist at present, but they are being quickly resolved.
The headlines say it all. Nearly everyone who criticizes the Internet makes some statement about the presence of pornography. The fact is that pornography exists on the Internet, just as it does in other areas of public expression.
Concerned parties can avoid this material on the Web using a program which safely and effectively limits what information can be viewed. Even churches may provide their congregations with clean Internet service which protects members and families from the harmful excesses of the Internet which many news agencies report.
Pornography's presence on the Internet is no more than a reflection of other aspects of our society, where pornography is also alive and well. We can't keep the information highway cleaner than we keep our streets. In addition, the proportion of "clean" information on the Internet far exceeds that of sex-related material. Based on an informal survey of a popular Internet search tool in September 1995, only .14% of all pages on the Web contained sexual references.
The Internet's effectiveness is hardly questionable due to its efficient and interactive nature. Because it is completely independent of time and distance, information can be sent and received at any time and is not limited by geographical location. As a result communication takes place more quickly and efficiently over the Internet than in any other medium.
The interactivity of the Internet is unique, superseded only by face to face communication. The television, for example, also distributes information rather efficiently (though not completely time or distance independent), but with that medium, broadcasts only travels one direction at a time. On the Internet, communication travels in at least two directions at the same time. These advantages speak for themselves in their ability to facilitate interaction at any time regardless of the participants' geographic location.
In an increasingly complex world, many are turning to the Internet as a key resource to make sense of the world around them. The Vice President of the United States is actively promoting the Internet. David Barrett contends that "unless we avail ourselves of computer and electronic communications technology, the complexity of our world will make it impossible to monitor the progress and understand the challenge of Christian mission." Ken Bedell, in a video script given to missions leaders exploring the possibilities of missions in Cyberspace, said the following:
As we move into the new communication era we need to make sure what we take from that past is not the values that were conditioned by old technologies. Rather we need to look with fresh eyes at the potential to develop new ways of organizing and structuring our mission work that are based on Biblical principles, the teachings of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit.American society, along with other nations of the world, is heading in the direction of the Internet. The world of missions can either run from it, maintaining old and less effective means of communication and so distancing missions from the culture, or embrace it, taking advantage of the useful elements of the Internet and allowing these tools to enhance communication and create better-equipped missionaries.