The BBC reported recently on the shadow world of the World Wide Web – the Deep Web. The FBI recently closed down a major secret on-line market place for the sale of drugs, weapons and other illegal trade called the Silk Road. Operating using hidden sites and bamboozling cyber pathways – this internet underworld allowed a vast collection of criminals, paedophiles and illicit traders to connect and do business with each other. The internet allows these links across borders, offers a common language and even a common currency (the Bitcoin). The great unifier of humanity has, it seems, a dark heart.
The World Wide Web is a phenomenal invention, one of the wonders – perhaps the wonder – of our age. Its benefits and blessings are many – but like all humanity’s great inventions this one has not escaped being tainted by sin. Just as every good technology developed by humanity inevitably gets used for evil at some point (e.g. the design skills that build hospitals are the same used to build gas chambers / the pharmaceutical skills that gave us aspirin also gave us crack cocaine / the technology that gave us jet packs also gave us Ryanair!), so has gone the internet. Indeed the greater and more powerful the technology – the greater and more powerful is its potential evil. So the extraordinary power of the internet to connect, inform, amuse and educate – is also extraordinary in its potential to spread evil, facilitate exploitation, to corrupt, to troll and to operate beyond law and accountability.
The very ability to connect, have common language and band together has thrown up a great breeding ground for evil. We shouldn’t really be surprised though, after all we’ve been here before. The last time humanity enjoyed that kind of commonality, proximity and communication it quickly channelled it into the pursuit of godlessness. In the early days of human history men and women quickly used their unity to display their defiance and rejection of God.
I remember the reading the story of The Tower of Babel in my teens and thinking God’s reaction was perhaps a little severe. You remember, how God brought confusion among the people by the introduction of multiple languages and humanity was divided and scattered accordingly. ‘What a shame’, thought I (although I was probably doing German homework at the time). After all isn’t such division a bad thing, wouldn’t a common language be so much better, how nice to think of the world unified in a great ‘brotherhood of man’.
The internet is perhaps a clue to God’s concern at Babel. God in His wisdom, and in His mercy, curtailed the ability of humanity to band together precisely in order to put a check on the potential for evil by a unified humanity. The history of peoples, nations and cultures is in many ways the story of checks and balances – the working of restraints on the potential for evil to be unchallengeable in the world.
For now the challenge is to use the internet’s good potential for good – to redeem it for noble purposes inasmuch as we can. But its misuse should cause us to reflect on the providence of God all those years ago on the plains of Babel.