Friday, December 11, 2009

I have written a few times about writings of Francis Schaeffer and the things he foresaw in our culture. But I want to take a little space this time to point out some things he did not see coming. I was re-reading portions of his 1979 book "How Should We Then Live" in which he saw a bleak future coming for our society. Some of his concerns are problems for us still, but others have changed in unexpected ways or been replaced by other problems, and a couple have possibly given new hope that he did not see.

One major change since 1979 that he did not foresee was the collapse of the Soviet Union, the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and even the secession of some of the Soviet "republics" like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Russia today is still an authoritarian country, and possibly always will be; it would take generations for a people without a history of self-government to develop it from scratch. Likewise, the change of China to an authoritarian but somewhat capitalist state might have surprised him.We still have threats of war and terror, but now it comes from Islamic terrorists, not from Communists. It is still not comfortable, but there is a difference.

He also wrote about the use of "high-speed computers" by authoritarian states (Communist and our own) as a tool of oppression. But about the time of his death in 1984, the computer began to change from a tool for government, big business and academia to a tool for many ordinary people, with the arrival of the personal computer and the Internet. I saw some statements years ago that the copy machine helped bring down the Soviet Union; I once saw another that technology had allowed to KGB to tape so many phone conversations that they lacked the manpower to listen to and evaluate them all, and their system went down anyway.

Now, the further development of computers in the last twenty years has become a way for people to communicate across the country and around the world. And while governments may try to restrict the freedom of the Internet, their success may be limited. Recent events in Iran raise the possibility that regime may yet be brought down, in part, by the Internet and Twitter!
My last post was about "Climategate", and I heard a statement on a local radio show referring to Al Gore's claim years ago to have invented the Internet, which has now been used to cut the ground from under his Global Warming crusade.

The Internet has done something else as well. One of Schaeffer's concerns was the power of a biased press and media in our culture, especially to spin the news and even determine what gets reported as news. But that power has taken severe hits in the last few years. Talk radio and Internet news sources have eaten into their monopoly. In a number of cases in the last few years bloggers have broken major stories before the press did, and sometimes in spite of the press's attempts to ignore them. Climategate is only the most recent example; the Acorn videos gives another. When Dan Rather was pushing the letters reflecting poorly on George Bush's military service, it was bloggers who noticed, and published, that those letters must be forgeries because certain details in the print were possible on word processors and computers, but not on typewriters--and word processors and desktop computers did not exist at the time the letters were supposedly written. Bloggers are still around, but Rather is off the air. The power of the "mainstream media" has been severely reduced and may yet be broken.

And to add injury to insult, the Internet has been a major factor in the "legacy media" going broke. Newspapers are shutting down all over the country; the New York Times has borrowed millions and laid off many of its workers. The threat to them is two-pronged: competition from other sources of news on one hand, and loss of advertising revenue on the other (my wife and I have not bought anything from a newspaper classified ad in years, but we have bought several items, including our vehicles, from Craigslist). The downward spiral seems likely to go on for a while longer, and shows signs of taking down many magazines as well as newspapers.

So, some of the clouds Schaeffer saw thirty years ago have turned out to have silver linings. We still have causes for concern, some of them the same and some different; but we also have cause for hope. I certainly have enjoyed the friendships I have found online; some have been across the country, and some did lead to local face-to-face relationships. We will face the remaining problems as we have to.

1 comment:

ded said...

Times change and real people adapt. So it goes. Thanks for this reminder that there is a depth to the common man that is often overlooked by so many.