Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: Can We Use the Internet to Explain God to Kids?

What do you get the Internet for its thirtieth birthday? What do you get a — what? system? — that has everything.

Or, that contains everything.

Those were my feelings this morning as I learned that today is the thirtieth birthday of the World Wide Web.

In March 1989, CERN computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee proposed a “web” of hypertext documents that could be viewed through a “browser.”Three decades later, the internet has reshaped the fabric of communication, global access to information, and society at large.Read that last line. It is an understatement.It would not be a cliche to say that the internet has revolutionized society to an extent unseen since Gutenberg invented the printing press. Like almost nothing else in the last thousand years of human history, the internet has revolutionized consciousness itself.
It would be impossible to list the ways that the internet has had an impact on contemporary religion. Just the idea that you can stream a worship service, and instantly touch millions of people beyond the pews, was revolutionary — and in some ways, problematic.

We still have not entirely discerned what the Internet has done for — or, to — our sense of community, and our sense of relationships
. Is Facetime the same as, well, face time? Has the ability to send texts simply another way of sending short notes? Has it revived the epistolary form of communication? Do emojis substitute for true emotion?

As one of Israel’s greatest thought leaders, Micah Goodman, has said: the Internet has reduced our sense of human empathy. Many of our young people are having more screen conversations than “human” conversations. When we gain screens, we lose empathy. We are accessible, but not present.

I say this, knowing that in recent days, I have been the surprised beneficiary of the internet. In the wake of my father’s death, hundreds of tributes flowed in my direction through Facebook and emails. It was a form of comfort that did not exist thirty years ago, and I am grateful that it exists now.

(Are those people “really” my “friends?” It turns out that the internet is getting us to re-think the meaning of friendship itself.)

We have not entirely figured out what the Internet has done for — or, to — what it means for people to access knowledge, or information, or….

Because that is the key intellectual challenge of the Internet. Is accessing information the same as learning? In a more or less level playing field of information, in which the amount of information quintupples almost every second, how do we evaluate that information? When information is coming at us with that kind of speed, how do we even begin the task of thinking about what it means to be thinking?

In fact, thinking takes time. Or, it should take time. When we reduce everything to convenience, and when we encounter the proliferation of choices that the Internet places before us, how do we even begin to make rational decisions?

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Source: Religion News Service

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