I thought my Facebook account had been hacked when I failed to log on to it this morning.
The disruption was one of Facebook’s most “widespread and persistent system outages”—with the outage stretching beyond 10 hours for some. The timing of the news seemed particularly ironic, considering the fact we had just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web yesterday.
Unbeknown to me, Instagram and WhatsApp were also down since yesterday evening, frustrating faithful users who were unable to access their social network application for hours.
Though I was only minimally affected by the outages as I was sound asleep for the most part of it, I can imagine what must have been going through the minds of those who were affected by it, having had a similar experience just a few weeks ago when I was confronted with the possibility of not having access to my favorite web applications for a few days.
In my case however, it was about the need to have to pay for access (or Wi-Fi), at the Airbnb my friends and I booked at Rarotonga, one of the most populous of the Cook Islands, for a week-long retreat.
The Airbnb we booked had listed Wi-Fi as one of its amenities. But it didn’t cross our mind that we had to pay for the Wi-Fi, so the shock was rather palpable when our Airbnb hostess told us otherwise.
Of course, we could survive a week without Wi-Fi, but what was the point of holidaying on a stunning tropical island, with its white sandy beaches and clear waters, if we were unable to share photos or videos of them on Instagram? Besides, we would need to connect to WhatsApp to tell our workmates and family what a wonderful time we were having.
Disgruntled, we pulled out our credit cards and spent the next 10 minutes agonising over which data plan to buy, and how much we would need.
My experience as well as the recent social outage got me thinking about how far (and fast) the World Wide Web has evolved, since it was first proposed on 11 March 1989, by Tim Berners-Lee.
Growing up with dial-up
I was 12 when I first learned about the World Wide Web, and I remember being in awe of a friend whose computer was set-up with an Internet connection. Her mum bought books off Amazon, and she would have the latest novel or a hard-to-find title in her hands.
Another friend would spend days downloading her favorite songs from the Internet using file-sharing services (it took her at least two days to download a song, and a week for a movie, but it was still pretty awesome in my eyes). I also thought she was the height of cool, since she had an account for chat rooms such as IRC and ICQ.
Unfortunately, my family did not have our first computer or an Internet connection until I was about 15-years-old, as my parents didn’t want me running loose on the web until I was a little older. Needless to say, I was very excited when we finally had dial-up, and spent countless hours pinching photos of my favourite boybands off various websites. We eventually had to install two landlines, one dedicated to the Internet, and another for receiving calls.
Looking back, the dial-up was very quaint, with its trademark tone as it connects to the Internet, to the frustratingly slow download times, and its lack of access—there was no way you would be able to get dial-up on your phone!
Now, the landscape has changed completely. The web today allows me to connect with people from different parts of the world, to explore the world from the comforts of my home, and watch shows that aren’t available in New Zealand.
One of the biggest benefits is that it has allowed me to serve God with various Christian organisations that are based thousands of miles away from New Zealand. Over the past few years, I was able to volunteer my writing with two Christian organisations, one in Australia and the other in Singapore, and my sphere of influence was no longer restricted to just an hour service in a suburban church. With just a computer and the Internet, I was able to reach readers through my writing.
Having said that, the advent of the Internet has also affected the way I view life, and even the Bible—and not always positively. Here are three examples:
1. It has made me more impatient
The days of dial-up Internet taught me patience, but I am afraid the introduction of high-speed Internet has wiped out that virtue. It has brought convenience to my life—I am able to access any information in seconds, and able to download library books into my e-reader without the hassle of driving to the library and back.
But on the flip side, this attitude of expecting items to be at my fingertips in seconds has also made me impatient in my prayer life. I remember a time where I was not fussed on when God would answer me, but these days, I wish I am able to either WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger God with my problems—and get an instant reply.
2. It has made me a binger
Before streaming services were available, I remember waiting faithfully every week for my favorite TV shows to air. Wednesdays were my favorite as it was comedy night on a particular TV channel, and it was usually an hour-long line-up of sitcoms. These days, I barely turn on the TV except to watch snippets of the 6 p.m. news and programs like Border Security and Dog Squad. But oh boy, do I binge on Netflix. I can spend a sick day watching an entire season of a Korean drama or a Norwegian crime-thriller series.
However, I can’t recall the last time I have binged-read my Bible. Admittedly, reading the Bible requires more brain work than mindlessly watching Netflix. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could binge-read my Bible the way I work my way through the series on Netflix?
3. It has made me a serial shopper
Shopping on the World Wide Web comes with its own set of perils, such as overspending on the credit card. I can remember a time when I was clicking the “buy” button without a lot of thought, and if I saw a dress I liked on a UK website (with free delivery if you spend over a certain amount), I would make sure I’d qualify for the free shipping. Hidden costs such as exchange rates and bank fees when making an overseas purchase didn’t cross my mind, so I tend to get a little shock when I see my credit card bill. I have since reined in on my shopping habits as I am working to be a good steward of my finances (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Reflecting on how the Internet has evolved makes me realize that at the end of the day, it is just another tool of mass communication, and may one day be overshadowed by something else. Therefore, it’s important that I do not let my life revolve around it.
Like everything else, the Internet can be used for both good and evil, but we must not blame it for the influences it may have over the way we feel, think, and act. Let’s be careful not to make idols of anything in our life, but instead work towards a wholehearted devotion to God. After all, unlike the Internet or our favourite social media channels, God will not surprise us with prolonged outages, instead He will faithfully see us through the seasons of our lives.