All too often, our modern communications are seasoned with venom, not salt. Waging war by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or any other of the electronic tools spawned by the internet has become routine, even, unfortunately, sometimes within our community. And this is only one of the problems we see today. The proliferation of these rapid, or even instantaneous, means of transmission of information, true or false, largely with little thought of the consequences, can overwhelm the Truth. Not only this, the very nature of transmission via the internet leaves a permanent trail. Not only does the NSA1 keep track of communications worldwide, but almost anything put on the internet remains there almost indefinitely.
The world has been slow to adjust to this reality. It is a reality that when the communication is face to face, much of the information that is transmitted is non-verbal. A shrug, the intonation, facial expressions, and body language — they all provide context and additional information. But in electronic communications these additional channels are lost. How often has one written something, convinced of its meaning — only to find that the recipient has misunderstood what you meant. Too often, in case of any ambiguity, the worst possible interpretation is placed on the writing.
Speed of communication
For the largest period of human existence, most communication was oral. Although writing was known quite early, the very slowness of producing hand written letters etc. did not really affect this. The invention of printing lead to much more effective forms of mass communication, and indeed the printing press was vital in the spreading of the early gospel by the forbears of our community. (John Thomas had his own printing press, which he used to produce his early magazines, and which in fact included the first newspaper in St. Charles, Illinois, where he was residing around 1842.) Up until the middle of the 19th century, communication was delivered no faster than the speed of a horse: then first the railway (up to 60 mph), and then the electric telegraph (almost the speed of light, but very limited bandwidth) changed it. Still, printed media and public addresses were the main forms of mass communication, until the radio and film industries arrived in the 1920s. The telephone gradually made its impact in the early 20th century and became a major form of voice communication, but was by no means universal until the 1970s. One per household was the norm! The radio was widely used by the Christadelphians in the US to spread the truth almost from its inception: likewise the television not long after its introduction in the 1950s. All these electronic forms of communication sped up mass communication, but the letter and the telephone still were the rule for person to person communication.
The internet changed all that: indeed its start was to facilitate the exchange of electronic mail: it became widely used in the early 1990s, and its growth has been phenomenal. There are now almost 1 billion web sites, with well over 20 billion pages and perhaps 2.5 billion e-mail users. So a very significant fraction of the world’s population is connected to the internet, as are the vast majority of Christadelphians in North America.
Communication in the internet world
Despite the advent of the internet, the Biblical principles still apply:
- Speak often to each other (Mal 3:16-18).
- Exhort one another daily (Heb 3:13).
- Face-to-face is better than written (3John 13-14).
- Disagreements are to be handled firstly face to face: not by remote communications, nor in public (Matt 18:15). This principle is repeated in Proverbs 25:9-10.
There are several other tendencies of our modern forms of communication that are discouraged by these Biblical instructions: Any form of rebuke or correction should always be face to face. Paul might have recorded his rebuke of Peter for all believers, but he performed his rebuke in person:
We should never communicate sensitive information via e-mail. First of all, such communication is permanent, and secondly, your e-mail is often read by others. This particularly, I believe, applies to communications by or between members of ecclesial arranging boards.
We should always avoid, as far as we can, discussing any controversial topics in any fashion other than face-to-face.
And above all, think twice (at least!) before hitting the “send” button.
Would I say this in person? Is it helpful? Do all the addressees need to see this?
The whole world seemed at one stage to be present on Facebook, but it now seems about to be superseded by a whole raft of similar sites. (You either have to be a true techie, or obsessed by such sites, to identify all the sites shown — I cannot!) However, we should clearly recognize their utility as well as drawbacks.
It is a rapid way of communicating information to one’s circle of friends (and as a grandparent, information about grandchildren is always of interest!).
It can reach an audience which is somewhat resistant to traditional communication means: many young people seem to rely only on their smart phones as their sole method of interaction. Many are reluctant to do anything as old fashioned as talk on their device.
However we are advised by Paul to focus on: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16). After all, time is perhaps the most valuable, as well as the most perishable of our possessions, and the abuse of social media and its often accompanying online game playing are together one of the most abused time-wasting activities of our day.
We are told “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty” (Prov 14:23, ESV). To broadcast your daily activities is surely mere talk. Few are interested in what you had for lunch.
The fundamental advice is that given by James:
After all “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt 12:36). The idle words we speak ought not to be for self-aggrandizement, or prideful, but as befitting the ambassadors for Christ, which we ought to be.
- The National Security Agency: As of the date of this editorial, it has been revealed that they collect and store vast amounts of e-mails, telephone calls, and other electronic information. And of course web sites like Facebook archive all the communications that pass across its servers.
- Some of these thoughts are derived from a talk given by Bro. David Wisniewski (Brant County, ON) at the Shippensburg Bible School, 2013.