Information Filters

Today, says sociologist Christian Smith,

soulsearchingAnyone can post for global consumption almost whatever content on the Internet, unregulated by traditional standards gatekeepers, without having to account for its relation to everything else on the Internet. Stated differently, the new technologies open up greater opportunities for unfettered authorship, for more reciprocal flows of information, and for multiple horizontal connections through hyperlink structures instead of the more linear and hierarchical structures of traditional texts and producers. Authority over standards of knowledge thus becomes radically democratized and decentralized, filling the open market with a congestion of ideas and information that have not been reviewed, judged, and sorted by evaluating authorities. Thus, Internet searches on any subject—on the nature of God, for example—produce many thousands of hits with no built-in means to sort through which information among those hits is more valid, reliable, or authorized by the institutions that once controlled that knowledge. Discernment is left up to the individual. All of this not only increases the amount of information publicly available, but more important, embodies for and promotes among its users a new epistemology—a novel definition of human knowledge and interaction per se—that represents an alternative model of what the very world itself is and how the world itself works. The new world of knowledge, and perhaps the human consciousness that flows from it, is, for better or worse, increasingly visual, decentralized, unclassified, disjointed, unregulated, fragmented, and unevaluated. Alien to it, therefore, are many of the continuities and organizing principles of historical tradition, canon, authority, rules of order, systematic doctrine, and many other features that have historically defined American religions. Youth socialized into the new digital order may therefore find the substance of historical religious traditions difficult to assimilate.

Smith, Christian; Denton, Melina Lundquist. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005), Kindle Edition.

I say we need information filters, and that those filters will ultimately be based on authority—whether our own or someone else’s.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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