The Internet—Making Wise Use of a Global Tool
THE invention of printing, centuries ago, changed the way in which people communicate with one another. The invention of the Internet in modern times has been compared to that. This practical tool has been called a global tool of communication, and rightly so. As you travel down the “information superhighway,” you can pick up facts, statistics, and opinions on a wide variety of subjects.
The ability to communicate is a wonderful gift from our Creator. It enables us to exchange ideas and share information with others. Jehovah was the first to communicate with his human family, providing clear, unambiguous information on how to lead a meaningful life. (Gen. 1:28-30) As made evident by what happened early in human history, however, the gift of communication can be misused. Satan gave utterly false information to Eve. She accepted what he said and passed it on to Adam, who led humankind into a course of calamity.—Gen. 3:1-6; Rom. 5:12.
What can be said about using the Internet? While the Internet can provide valuable information, save us time, and serve a useful function, it can also misinform us, consume an inordinate amount of our time, and corrupt us morally. Let us consider how we can use this global tool to our benefit.
Information—Reliable or False?
Never assume that all information found on the Internet is good and beneficial. Internet search engines might be compared to a legion of mushroom pickers who tirelessly collect all types of mushrooms—edible as well as poisonous—throwing them into a single container and dishing them out for us to eat. Would you start eating these mushrooms without carefully examining each one? Of course not! Internet search engines use a huge number of computers to harvest or select from billions of Web pages containing everything from the very best to the very worst. We need discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, lest we poison our minds with misinformation.
In 1993 a well-known magazine had a cartoon showing two dogs in front of a computer. One dog explains to the other: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Long ago, Satan hid behind a serpent to start a “chat” with Eve and told her that she could be like God. Today, anyone with an Internet connection can become a desktop professor, pretending to be in the know, without even revealing his name. And there are no rules on who can publish ideas, information, images, and suggestions.
Do not become an “Internet Eve.” Be critical and suspicious of the information. Before trusting it, ask: (1) Who published this material? What are the author’s credentials? (2) Why was this published? What motivated the writer? Is there any bias? (3) Where did the author get the information? Does he supply sources that can be checked? (4) Is the information current? In the first century, the apostle Paul gave Timothy advice that applies with equal force today. Paul wrote: “Guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’”—1 Tim. 6:20.
Saves Time or Takes Time?
If used wisely, the Internet can undoubtedly save us time, energy, and funds. We can conveniently buy something without leaving home. Comparing prices may help us save money. Online banking has made the life of many people easier; financial matters can be handled at any time in the comfort of our home. The Internet provides essential tools to work out a convenient and economical itinerary for a trip we may be planning and helps us make the necessary bookings. With a little effort, we can look up phone numbers, addresses, and various ways to get to our intended destination. Worldwide, branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses use many of these services to save time, personnel, and funds.
There is, however, a dark side to be considered. It concerns the amount of time that using the Internet may consume. For some, the Internet has become a fascinating toy instead of a helpful tool. They spend excessive amounts of time playing, shopping, chatting, e-mailing, searching, and surfing. Eventually, they may start to neglect the more important things involving family, friends, and congregation. The Internet can even become addictive. For example, an estimate published in 2010 indicated that 18.4 percent of Korean adolescents were affected by Internet addiction. German researchers stated that “more and more women are complaining about the addiction [of] their partners.” One woman complained that dependence on the Internet has changed her husband dramatically to the point that it has destroyed their marriage.
A branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses received a letter from an individual who called himself an Internet junkie. He sometimes spent up to ten hours a day on the Internet. After remarking that “at first, it all seemed so innocent,” he added: “In time, my meeting attendance dwindled and I stopped praying.” When he went to the meetings, he was unprepared and his mind was at home longing to “be able to log on again.” Happily, he realized the seriousness of the problem and took measures to correct it. May we never get to the point that using the Internet has become an addiction for us.
Information—Worthy or Not?
At 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22, we read: “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine. Abstain from every form of wickedness.” We need to determine whether the information we find on the Internet is worthy of God’s approval, meeting his high standards. It should be morally unobjectionable and appropriate for a Christian. Internet pornography has become especially pervasive, and if we are not careful, it can easily lure us into its trap.
We are wise to ask ourselves, ‘Is what I see on the screen something I would quickly hide from my mate, my parents, or my Christian brothers if they entered the room?’ If the answer is yes, we would do well to use the Internet only when others are present. The Internet has indeed changed the way we communicate and shop. In addition, it has opened up a completely new way to ‘commit adultery in our heart.’—Matt. 5:27, 28.
To Forward or Not to Forward?
Using the Internet includes getting information as well as distributing it. Though we have the freedom to obtain and pass on information, we also have the responsibility to ascertain its truthfulness and morality. Can we vouch for the accuracy of what we write or forward to others? Do we have permission to pass the information on?* Is it worthwhile and upbuilding? What are our motives in making it available? Do we want to do so simply to impress others?
If used properly, e-mail can be a blessing. It can also flood us with information. Are we overloading others by broadcasting the latest news or trivia to long lists of acquaintances, perhaps consuming their valuable time? Should we not examine our motives before we hit the send button? What do we really want to accomplish? People used to write letters to share their own experiences with family and friends, keeping them up-to-date with what was going on in their life. Should this not be the focus of our e-mail? Why pass on to others something we cannot verify?
So, then, what should we do with regard to the Internet? Shun it altogether? That may be necessary in some cases. The Internet junkie mentioned earlier did that in order to overcome years of addiction. On the other hand, using the Internet can benefit us, provided we let ‘thinking ability keep guard over us and discernment safeguard us.’—Prov. 2:10, 11.
The same applies to photos. Though we may take pictures for our own use, we may not be at liberty to distribute them, much less supply the names of the people represented in the photos and indicate where they live.
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How can you avoid becoming a victim of misinformation?
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What should you consider before hitting the send button?