Shining like stars: Lessons from #Wikipediablackout

London, N19
20/01/2012  •  809 words

The web was abuzz earlier this week with the almost apocalyptic Wikipedia blackout. This was a political protest to protect life as we know it – ready access to a near-infinite supply of potentially spurious information. The folks at Wikipedia (along with everyone else who believes in the open Web) object to two Bills in the US Congress which, if made law, would have far-reaching implications for access to data online. It is quite conceivable that Wikipedia could be taken down as a result of these measures, so to protest they flipped the switch for the day and went quiet. (Bex blogged about it on Wednesday.)

Panic ensued. A whole generation of people was suddenly unable to retrieve information of any sort, having become thoroughly dependent on the wonder of Wikipedia. The blackout showed just how reliant on the open web we have become. In the wise words of Joni Mitchell, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’!

We have unrivalled power to communicate

In a tongue-in-cheek liveblog of the event, the Guardian sought to fill the void left by Wikipedia. They used the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Who’s Who to answer a range of oddball questions posed by readers. Along the way, they demonstrated just how useful the Internet is:

If you’re wondering why this is all taking so long, it’s because this research lark is a nightmare. There are no hyperlinks, no searchboxes – and what the devil’s an “index”? Bloody unhelpful, that’s what… What a rumpus.

What a rumpus, indeed. If nothing else, this exercise proves just how much easier it is to process information digitally. We can find it (with search boxes) and index it (with hyperlinks) in a far more intuitive way than ever before. The Wikipedia blackout demonstrated that we, today, have more power to communicate than at any time since Babel. We can disseminate, engage with with, challenge and learn from information with an ease and accuracy that was barely a dream mere decades ago.

Making the most of every opportunity

The question is, what are we going to do with that power? How can we use it in lives of worship to the glory of God?

There are countless answers, of course, as we #digidisciple(s) are continually discovering. This blog is a fantastic forum for asking these kinds of questions and starting these kinds of conversations. So far this month we’ve had great posts on integrity; using wise words; and trends and opportunities for the year ahead to name just a few.

There is so much more to do, though, if we are to make the most of every opportunity we have in the digital era. We have a glorious God to get to know better, love more, and take more joy in. We have the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ to proclaim winsomely. We have the Holy Spirit living in us growing us in spiritual maturity.

There has never been a better time to ask these questions have these conversations.

  • In a world where we have immediate access to a range of opinions and practices, we need to ask what it means to serve in the church. Is it OK to attend a church for its worship style despite finding its teaching lacklustre while downloading podcasted sermons to fill the void? What are the benefits and dangers of pick’n’mix involvement in Christian communities? Is there a limit to the number of Christian communities can you serve effectively?
  • In a week in which American pastor Mark Driscoll’s comments about the British church sparked a transatlantic war of words, we need to ask what it means to be a worldwide body of believers. What role do brothers and sisters abroad play in challenging and encouraging us, building one another up in love? How does the onset of instant digital communication change that role?
  • In a Web of user-generated content, we need to ask what it means to practice biblical discernment in what we find online. How do we respond to ideas we disagree with on the Internet? Should we check the authenticity of new ideas shared in the digital space with the same care as if they were shared from the pulpit of our church? Should we check blog posts against what the Bible says? Do we have the same responsibilities to refute false teaching we find on our social networks as we would in our church?

There are so, so many more questions we can and must ask if we are to make the most of every opportunity by using the unrivalled power we have to communicate. Let’s learn the lessons of the Wikipedia blackout so we can shine like stars online, holding out the word of life.

This article was originally written for the Big Bible Project.