Understanding the Impacts of Technology and the Internet

Around the turn of the century, there were critics who felt that the Internet was being over hyped. For example, art critic Robert Hughes writing about the information highway in Digital Time (1995) claimed that “We will look back on what is now claimed ... and (wonder) how we ever psyched ourselves into believing all the bull-dust about ... fulfillment through interface and connectivity. But by then we will have some other fantasy to chase. Its approaches equally lined with entrepreneurs and flack who will be the beneficiaries.”[1] Hughes died in 2012, so he was able to see the evolution of the worldwide web. I wonder if he had changed his mind?

A more positive view of the Internet was recently provided by futurist and transhumanist Ray Kurzweil: “A kid in Africa has access to more information than the president of the United States did 15 years ago.”[2] Since I live part-time in Africa, this quote got me thinking. At an extremely isolated school with no electricity but with cellphone coverage, we could do a lot with a smart phone, a LED projector, and speakers. All we need is a fairly dark room. While the Internet alone can’t change Africa, it is certainly an important starting point.

But, even now in the 21st century, there is a misunderstanding about the Internet and how it is a game changer. For example, Michael Otterson, Managing Director of Public Affairs for the LDS Church, recently wrote: “Few can doubt that the Internet has transformed our society for the better in many ways, notably in providing a voice for everyone with a keyboard or mobile device. The problem with the Internet is that it has also become a place for angry venting, cynical putdowns and the circulating of misinformation.”[3]

And Elder Neil L. Andersen in an Oct 2014 Conference talk states: “We might remind the sincere inquirer that Internet information does not have a 'truth' filter. Some information, no matter how convincing, is simply not true.”[4]

I think Otterson and Elder Andersen misunderstand what is occurring. For example, in the area of Church history, the “misinformation” that he talks about is frequently more accurate than past officially-published Church versions. Suddenly the Church has had to start owning its past.

Elder David A. Bednar sees the Internet and related tools as ways to expand proselytizing: “All these advancements are part of the lord hastening His work in the latter days.” [5] As some have called it, "spamming for converts."

But the Internet is so much more, it provides an important gathering point for interesting discussions surrounding policy and doctrinal issues. Blogs are frequently more intellectually challenging than the banalities of Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society lessons. The Internet is a hub for groups with special interests, be it Church history, feminism, same-sex attraction, humanitarian work, theology, technology, transhumanism, etc.

The LDS Church will soon have over half of its members in developing countries. How about using the Internet to help these members? For example, distance education has a huge upside and our buildings provide excellent venues for learning.

When it comes to the Internet, the LDS Church leaders need a wider vision.

[1] Hughes, Robert, 1995, “Take This Revolution . . .,” Digital Time, Spring, p. 76.

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/12/tech/innovation/ray-kurzweil-sxsw/ (accessed June 24, 2014)

[3] http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2014/05/30578/ (accessed June 24, 2014)

[4 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/joseph-smith?lang=eng] (accessed June 24, 2014)

[5] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865609122/Elder-Bednar-invites-Mormons-to-use-social-media-to-flood-the-earth-with-gospel-messages.html?pg=all (accessed October 15, 2013)