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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."

What every parent should know about the Internet
Communicating with Internet technology

by David Clark

In last month’s article we saw how the Internet can be used for good or ill. This month, we start looking in detail at some of the key technologies that have been fueled by the Internet revolution. In particular, we consider the whole issue of communication, from email to text, Twitter and Skype.  This is an area that is fraught with real and deeply troubling dangers but, when used wisely, can bring about immense benefits to individuals and organizations.

Driving while intexticated…

In 2007 Brandi Terry, a 17-year old schoolgirl who lives in the US state of Utah, was on her way to visit her grandfather when she drove through a red light and crashed. In a radio interview she recalls what happened: "I woke up to a bright light -- I could barely open my eyes -- and paramedics. This man was saying 'Brandi, Brandi,' and I just started crying. I didn't know what had happened". Terry had shattered her right ankle and broken her upper right arm in half. She couldn't walk for six months. When police checked her phone they discovered that she had sent a text within seconds of the accident.  Even after recovery, she went on to say of her habit of texting while driving: "I tried really, really hard not to. Then it got to the point where I would do it only once every 5 minutes" she says. "I don't know -- it's just so addicting, I just can't put it down." So why did she do it?

In a March 2008 BBC report, Professor Cary Cooper who advises the British government on stress in the workplace suggested that  “e-mail is one of the most pernicious stressors of our time” . He went on to say that every year Britons take 14 million sick days due to stress and that e-mail is a major source of employee anxiety: “We are 24/7, we are interfaced by the mobile phone, by Blackberry, by e-mails, by a whole range of technologies, so that we are almost on call all the time.”

Wherever we look we find people addicted to checking messages on their mobile phones. How often have we seen a row of teenagers sitting together, all glued to their phones, with hear buds firmly in place, and wondered if they were in fact communicating with each other - by text!

Teenagers are the not the only ones guilty of such behaviour, as anyone who has been on a flight can testify. As soon as the plane lands, out come the phones, Blackberries or iPhones to check up on that message that might just have been missed!

Or take the recent case of a man being interviewed for a head teacher’s position checking his phone in the middle of the interview as soon as he received a text message. He did not get the job!

It’s all about me

So why do we do it? Why are so many addicted to these new media, defined by the Webster's Dictionary as "to surrender oneself to something obsessively or habitually"? 

Is it not a sinful part of selfish human nature that makes us want to think that we are indispensable? So much so that we become addicted to email, text, twitter or any number of new communications. It is the opposite of what we read in Phil 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Do you tweet?

Another new technology that has people baffled is Twitter. Started in 2006, it has experienced a monthly growth of 1,382%! Twitter is a service that enables its users to send and read messages of up to 140 characters known as tweets. Anyone can then subscribe to receive these tweets. Some of the biggest showbiz stars and politicians have massive followings. Three and a half million people follow every tweet that Britney Spears sends, while two and a half million need to know about Barack Obama’s every move. Perhaps it makes people feel ‘closer’ to their favourite star or politician?

There is good also

Yet, there is still much that can be said in favour of these new media. Consider, for example, the missionary organization that has been able to cut costs significantly by replacing letters with emails. Instantly, they can let people know of prayer needs, of a difficult situation or a matter for rejoicing. Organizations such as the Christian Institute and others are even using Twitter to keep subscribers informed of significant developments.

Or think of parents, separated from their married children and grandchildren, who can now see them and talk to them over free Internet video services such as Skype. These days, the world is a much smaller place!

It was Twitter, for example, that was at the heart of the recent protests in Iran because it was both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. Similarly, text messages can be of great value in times of emergencies.

All this is changing the way that we interact with each other. It is undoubtedly contributing to a higher level of stress, with people now available all of the time. The boss gives employees a Blackberry and expects to be able to call on their services any time of night and day!
But the change is here to stay, as the postal service will attest, with 10% yearly drops in the physical mail that we send.

Emails can get you fired…

Much care should always be taken when sending emails. Not only are they admissible as evidence in court, but they can easily be misinterpreted. A chief executive of an American health care company, Cerner Corporation, wrote an email that turned out to be disastrous for the company as well as the morale of company employees. In the email, employees were accused of being lazy and managers were also threatened with being fired. It seemed the employee parking lot was not full at 8am and was nearly empty by 5pm each day. After the email showed up on a Yahoo Financial Message Board investors began questioning the leadership of the company. The result was a plunge of 22% in the share price of the company’s stock on Wall Street.

No Caps!

Or consider the case of Vicki Walker, an accountant from Auckland, New Zealand, who was fired for sending emails to work colleagues which “caused disharmony in the workplace.” The company she worked for, ProCare Health, claimed that her emails advising colleagues how to fill out staff claim forms were confrontational due to the use of a sentence written all in capital letters and highlighted in blue, with the time and date highlighted in red. For these crimes against humanity, Walker was fired from the position she had held at the company for two years."

Biblical principles

When considering our 24x7 society, there remain the key Biblical principles of self control, selflessness and service. The book of James explains it most clearly when it states that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:16-17).

In contrast to what is going on around us, we are not to be addicted to email, texting, twitter or any new form of communications. These are tools to be used for good. They are not to control us.

We should also apply the principle of James 1:19 and be “ be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”. In other words, we need to think about how we communicate with people. We need, for example, to consider how a person might read (or misinterpret) an email. Our responses should be considered, measures and focused on building up. We should consider “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” and “think about such things” - Phil 4:8.

Practical Advice

With spam accounting for over 90% of all email traffic it is important to take simple steps, such as installing a spam filter (though many email providers such as Google and BT already have these), and using up to date antivirus software. However, beyond these things, Christian principles such as self control, or humility are critical. 

Some Christian couples have found that sharing an email account can be helpful. Others suggest not responding to emails or text messages immediately is a good way of avoiding their additive effects. Particularly helpful is the idea of not responding to an message that has upset us on the same day it was received. Simply putting it in the ‘drafts’ folder and re-reading it the following day before sending it can avoid many dangers.

I conclude with an interesting true story that can be applied to all forms of new communications. Two friends were together, outside chopping up logs. The phone in the house ran several times, and eventually one friend asked the other if he was going to answer it? The homeowner simply said: “No. The phone is a convenience, and at this moment, it is inconvenient”!

The next article will look at the social networks such as Facebook and Linkedin and others. We will also look at Instant Messaging (IM), concluding with practical, helpful and positive advice.



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Last Update: 2013-08-12 16:41