Do you remember the Columbine shootings ten years ago? Do you recall how amazed we were that the students were using cell phones to call their parents from inside the school? The proliferation of cell phones was a new development, and we were stunned at the capability of communications during a hostage situation.
Looking back, our previous astonishment seems quaint now. The leaps and bounds of technology in the past ten years are unprecedented. Here are nine examples of how the communication available through the internet is changing our world.
1. A middle-aged frumpy Susan Boyle auditions for Britain’s Got Talent, wows the judges, and then becomes a sensation on YouTube. This Fall, her debut album sold more copies (700K) its first week than the new releases of Whitney Houston (305K) and Mariah Carey (168K) combined.
2. An unusual wedding entrance becomes a YouTube sensation. Weeks later, the nation’s top-rated comedy, The Office, incorporates the idea into the wedding for main characters, Jim and Pam.
3. A young woman in New York named Julie Powell decides to spend a year cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s famous book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She starts a blog as a journal. The popularity of her blog leads to a book deal and eventually a popular movie that tells the story of her life and Julia Child’s in parallel.
4. Jason Sadler wears a different T-shirt every day and blogs about it. Companies pay him for the publicity. He makes 83K a year. Who said you couldn’t make money using social media?
5. More and more companies are cutting back on travel and starting to use Skype for conference calls and job interviews. Skype is also changing the way immigrants think about their new country. The USA and EU are no longer “melting pots,” but more like “mosaics” as people from other cultures move in and maintain close ties and frequent video communication with friends and family at home.
6. Politicians are utilizing Twitter as a way of keeping lines of communication with their constituents (and fans). Sarah Palin has more than 35,000, Karl Rove 95,000, and Barack Obama 2,800,000. The prevalence of social media has caused the Gridiron Club to lift the “off-the-record” rule for its annual dinners. There is no stopping the flow of information!
7. Disgruntled church members are utilizing the internet as a way of stating their discontent. Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, Two Rivers in Nashville, and Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Florida have all had to deal with situations in which dissenting members aired their concerns on public websites. Church leaders claim the sites perpetuate gossip and do harm to the Body of Christ (I agree).
8. Vast amounts of religious materials are now available online. What used to be hard to find (early Christian writings, ancient sermons, commentaries) are now easily accessible and helpfully categorized.
9. Thousands of sermons – audio, video, manuscripts – from pastors are available for free. The upside? Prominent pastor-theologians like John Piper, W.A. Criswell, John MacArthur and others whose materials are a gift to the church. The downside? Rants from people like Steven Anderson (of YouTube fame) who pray for the president’s death.
We are living in the midst of a communications revolution. The only comparison that can be made is the invention of the printing press. Last time there was a communications revolution, a Reformation of the church took place. Will we see the new technology harnessed for the glory of God this time around?