The English pastor, author, and professor William R. Inge once wrote, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”
When it comes to the digital world, there is much that is “the spirit of the age.” As a student of digital culture, I recognize that I am often studying digital sand castles: each technological and educational trend will soon be washed away, assimilated, or used as a founding idea for the next. Or maybe another metaphor works better. It is as if I am a student of digital clouds. The clouds come and go, take new shapes each day, and sometimes disappear in what seems like minutes or hours. So it is with the digital world. At times, I’ve become caught up with this study of digital clouds so much that, upon remembering its fluid nature, I fall into small moments of despair. What is the point? All of this is fleeting. Cloud shapes are nice, but there comes a time when we crave something solid, something stable, something unchanging.
Solid and stable ideas are not popular today. Sand-castle and cloud metaphors for truth, life, reality, and the digital world are much more in vogue. However, the more I look at the digital world and each time I reach those tiny moments of despair, I find comfort in discovering that not all in the digital world is shifting sands or clouds. People are at the heart of digital culture. Studying people in the digital world often leads to revisiting the fundamental truths and yearnings of humanity, such as these:
- Humans are social creatures. In the beginning God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
- Because of this, we should not be surprised that humans constantly seek new ways to connect with others, even technological ones.
- We are drawn to things that give us pleasure and avoid that which is painful . . . and yet there are other things at play in the human experience that sometimes lead us to disregard the pleasure/pain principle. In Galatians 5:17, Paul teaches, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
- We yearn for unfailing love and acceptance. Proverbs 19:22 reminds us that “what a person desires is unfailing love” (NIV).
- We continually seek to build the next Tower of Babel. And when we manage to do so, it often amplifies the worst in us.
- We seem to be born with a craving for something that will last forever. In Ecclesiastes 3:11, we are reminded that “God has put eternity into man’s heart.”
- As a general rule, we are drawn to things that are similar to us, and we create personal worlds that reinforce our existing beliefs and ideas.
- Our vision is clouded by sin, for “there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
We could list other such truths, some positive and some negative. But as I think about the digital world, these are what I find myself rediscovering and revisiting. It is not as much about technology or digital environments as it is about digital spaces full of people with yearnings and traits that go far beyond “the spirit of the age.” I suggest that this is an important perspective for the educator in the digital age. When educators ignore this and marry the spirit of the age, education becomes a vehicle for peddling the next technology or product. We turn our schools into advertising agencies; “educational research” becomes synonymous with “market research”; lessons or courses become commercials for programs, products, fads, and fashions.
We study the digital world. We live in it. We prepare students for it. We educate and seek to serve as Christian citizens in it. But as we do, we are aware that much may wash away with the next tide. And so we ground our thoughts and ideas on those truths which stand firm across high and low tides . . . truths about humanity, the world, and most important, God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Amid the constant changes of our digital world, we find solace in that which, or rather Him who, does not change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture: ESV®.
Scripture marked NIV: NIV®.