“He can’t even call the things people do on the Internet sins, because it’s all so dull, really, just sitting in front of screens, and what’s that? Who cares? Ministering to souls was way more interesting when people actually interacted in real life. He hasn’t had a shoplifter or an affair within his flock for years. Now that’s interesting – oh so human – but Internet sinning? Nope. And his computer’s spell-check always forces him to capitalise the word ‘Internet’. Come on: World War Two earned its capitalisation. The Internet just sucks human beings away from reality.”
I’m reading Douglas Coupland’s book Player One at the moment. His character Luke is a pastor who has embezzled his church’s renovation fund and fled, partly from the feeling that his congregation’s sins have gotten just so boring recently.
Luke longs to hear about the sort of sins that might take place in a heated argument, or a room with loud music and low lights. Nowadays his list of contemporary sins include online gambling debt, shopaholism, porn addiction, and “willingness to tolerate information overload”.
I’m definitely pondering rather than arguing firmly for any case here. But I don’t buy Coupland’s character’s idea that the internet creates an alternate world away from real life.
I think it’s life. I think that when we go online we carry all of the features and habits of our personalities into it, and we act as we would do in the physical world – online gambling, shopaholism and porn addiction all branch off from the old school seven deadly sins, surely? (I also never noticed that spell-check made me capitalise internet until writing this. Not budging, ziggly green lines.)
To follow Luke’s line of thought as closely as possible though: the internet gives sin a slightly more claustrophobic breeding ground. The overwhelming amount of vicious comments on Youtube are the obvious example. A screen can let you think that you’re not doing something all that bad, because there’s not another human being in front of you who’ll be the recipient of your actions. The internet is not really another world, or another reality, but it suggests that it might be – suggests a step away from other people.
What Martin Luther really meant when he said: “Sin, and sin boldly” is up for grabs, but the general upshot seems to be that we shouldn’t be kidding ourselves about our actions and the consequences of our actions. Hurting others and being hurt should be something that comes with a knowledge that it’s wrong. Luther could be saying “Buck up your ideas. We’ll all make mistakes. Let’s at least have the integrity to let those mistakes be outdoors, clear and lucid, in the light of other people.”
A screen offers anonymity, a wall to hide behind, and the suggestion of a slightly unreal world where wrongs are only half-wrongs, if they are wrongs at all. It’s the live wire of another person that will shock me back into life when I’ve tripped up. We (I) need the reminder that the internet is real life too, made up of real people.