Feb 7, 2011

Review: The Soul in Cyberspace

I read The Soul in Cyberspace a while back and it still makes me think about how we use Internet technology.

A major point of this book is that much of the information technology we employ now (more even than back in 1999 when it was written) disembodies us and decontextualizes information. And, this is bad. Bad for deep understanding and bad for community (among other things).

We are "disembodied" when we develop multiple identities for ourselves. Social media and online games (just to name two ways) allow us to decide to present ourselves in either sanitized versions of our current life or in completely different ways. For example, you'll rarely see someone post on Facebook something like "just yelled at the kids and wife again." One can present just the happy parts of life that can build up other's opinion of you. In online games like World of Warcraft, you can assume any character you wish, including choosing how to behave. Groothuis argues that this is not good for us in that it fractures us and keeps us from having a full, whole identity as God made us.

Also, this technology makes information ethereal - easy to create, transmit, remix, and to delete either accidentally or purposefully. Certainly information technologies and the Internet can be used wisely and well, but Groothuis argues that we do not do so. More recent technology doesn't change this book - though it is 11 years old (a few web generations), the insights still hold and may have even better exemplars now. As an engineer, this book has helped me see the consequences of how we have designed information technology without a thoughtful Christian philosophy to guide us.

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