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BBC Computer c.1985


I was an unwilling victim, dragged into the computer age kicking and screaming. I trained as an art teacher. Actually, I also qualified as a maths teacher (studying computer technology in the process), but art was my main thing and the soulless world of computers left me cold. But the dark side had a fascination and little by little I was sucked into the mysterious digital world. My first computer, in 1983 was a BBC Micro (I’ve still got it in the attic–see photo above, note my homemade stand for the monitor and floppy drive–eh lad, them were the days, no expense spared). No longer an art teacher by then, I could see huge advantages for my work in the Church. I could hook up my computer to an electronic typewriter (also in the photo, a Brother daisywheel model), and the document would type itself; incredible! These early days were followed by better computers, dial-up modems (remember them, with their screechy noises?), purpose-built printers, fax machines and other advances.

So, I developed a comfortable relationship with the digital world, but then in the late 1990s/early 2000s mobile phones came on the scene. My virtual hackles rose up; digital resistance resurrected. I was issued a phone for work but I hated it. It made me accessible anywhere, at any time. How dare they invade my time and space in such an intrusive way! I could switch it off, but I was supposed to be on call. I enjoyed long car journeys for the privacy and solitude, but then my car was fitted with a carphone harness and my last haven of seclusion was gone.

I maintained a love-hate relationship with mobile phones (which morphed into smartphones of course), for years until a transformative moment. It occurred to me one day that if I wanted to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, I should be as available as possible to anyone who needs me. This simple idea changed my attitude; I also have peace of mind knowing that my wife Barbara has one and can get help in an emergency. I am more comfortable with my smartphone today.

Alexander Pope’s famous comment comes to mind:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien As to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

In the techno world of computers with its bits and bytes, countless beginners never get past the enduring stage! Perhaps it’s a trifle overstated to describe technology as a “vice”, but for several years another digital development has disturbed my techno-tranquility. Social Media. It bothers me at so many levels, in so many ways. It seems to generate a universe different from normal human contact. Seemingly at a whim, social becomes antisocial, persons are cancelled, unfriended, reputations destroyed, civility ignored, and all in public. The manipulative power of the software is cunning and insidious, cleverly creating dependency. Nowadays many measure their personal worth by the number of “likes” they get. It particularly troubles me that social media statements are so readily accepted. Rumour has always had a credulous audience, but social media magnifies the scale and speed to a frightening degree and truth is a casualty.

Of course, there’s good as well as bad. It provides innocent enjoyment for millions, and an opportunity for family and friends to keep up-to-date at no cost, even on the far side of the world. But for me, I prefer other ways to do it. I confess I look back with nostalgia on that ancient form of communication: writing on paper in ink with a fountain pen, and posting it in an envelope with an address and stamps. Perhaps that’s why I prefer email to social media: it’s more like a letter.

So, I’m not a social media fan. I put a link to these blog posts in Facebook and occasionally put announcements in the Church account, and that’s it. But I wonder if that’s right. After all, people use social media whether I like it or not. Some use only social media for information. Many public posts need a reasoned rebuttal. Consequently, I occasionally have a dabble. I have Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. But the dabble always peters out quickly; social media doesn’t come naturally to me. Anyway, we’ll see if I ever get converted, as I did with those other digital hangups.

What sent me down this train of thought? I think perhaps my increasing concern over the power of social media in the hands of tiny minorities to reshape traditional values, call evil good and good evil, shut down alternative views from the majority and restrict freedom of expression in the process. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts; I suppose I should be careful not to be too repetitive, but I believe that this trend is one of the greatest threats we face. It occurs to me that alternative voices are desperately needed, in quantity and clarity. The war between light and dark has never been more blatant. That’s one of my reasons for this blog. On a wide range of issues, the decent silent majority cannot afford to remain silent much longer, or they will be silenced forever. Perhaps I should dive into social media with greater commitment after all.


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