Personally, I love the amazing world of electronics and gadgets, but you're in a difficult situation when you know that every move you make is a step toward the end.
That's the kind of conundrum faced when you've grown up surrounded by gadgets and consumed by computers while simultaneously in a Christian household, reading the Left Behind books while skimming Revelation and interpreting any article about microchips as a sign of the beast.
As any proper modern consumer should, I love technology. I can access the Internet anywhere from an iPod in my pocket, I can record any moment at any time with my svelte camera, in fact, I'm always in touch because I never turn off my cell phone and I nearly always have my computer with me.
To a greater extent, modern society would cease to function without technology. I make my financial transactions digitally now, I wave an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip every time I enter the Metrorail or pick up car keys. A GPS satellite keeps track of me every time I get in a car, just to help me navigate. Wireless Internet makes knowledge accessible anywhere (if you consider Wikipedia knowledge). In fact, bar codes on every product we purchase speed things up tremendously.
How can we not love what electronics manufacturers are doing for us? Google is like a father providing for a world of children, wanting only what is best.
All of this tech seems so user-friendly, overwhelmingly simple, and we buy into the concept that gadgets and wires and cyberspace enhance our lives. I certainly do.
On one hand, I'm cheering for more technological progress and amazing gadgets.
But on the other hand, I've read every book in that never-ending Left Behind series, and whether you believe in the rapture or not, no Christian will deny that the Bible explicitly speaks of a mark the Antichrist will require that will allow trade and commerce.
That's precisely why Christians get shivers when they hear about that VeriChip procedure, introducing files like medical information in a chip the size of a grain of rice to be inserted underneath the skin.
That's why when we hear about electronic ink tattoos we wince ever so slightly.
But back to the Left Behind series for a moment... It really shouldn't be that bad for anyone suffering through the tribulation. After all, some of the story's key characters survived the wrath of the Antichrist and made it to the Glorious Appearing at the conclusion of seven years.
And then I remember, Oh yeah, those books began publishing in 1995.... Thirteen years ago. Early editions included technology like VHS tapes. RFID chips were no where to be found. Internet in your pocket was nary a concept in consumers minds. Characters didn't have to come to terms with the trail of data they set up in their earlier days online because social networking didn't exist. Stories took place before the time of USB flash drives and Internet telephony.
Technology has become increasingly difficult to control. In a way we face a web that we have woven, tangled with a larger web woven by two separate entities: Technology corporations like Google and national governments.
Every time we interface with technology we submit information about ourselves that is stored. This, in addition to the hundreds of cameras our actions and whereabouts are recorded on everyday. When we navigate our vehicles our path is traced by satellite. When we navigate our web browsers we leave a trail as well. When we shop and make purchases records of our transactions are kept. Our ID cards keep track of when we enter buildings and through which door.
But none of that is voluntary.
Enter the social web. The Internet is now so easy to manipulate with data that it's become a library where visitors write the pages of the books on the shelves every time they enter.
Companies now offer the service of cleaning up clients' Google results, but why is that even necessary?
Because newspapers and public records and blogs are easily found in search engines, anyone can write anything about you and it will be found for years to come. Laws about libel in the blogging era? Try to find a few.
But the greater damage is done by ourselves. Videos and photos uploaded online to social networking websites give clues as to the locations we frequent, what our homes look like, and what kind of character traits we have. Online applications allow us to show what countries we've been to and what personal interests we have while wall post messages exhibit details about what kind of friends we talk to while simultaneously giving minor details about our life.
A recent article in the New York Times detailed what a pain it was to remove information we post. Every element must be deleted one at a time, excruciatingly slowly and a very time consuming process for avid online networkers. But even with everything deleted who knows what was copied or saved by others before the demolition began.
Every word and every pixel is a clue we give others to who we are.
Characters in the Left Behind series survived because they couldn't be found, because they were in hiding, because the only history they had existed in books and picture fames and memories. Their identities couldn't be Googled, their MySpace pictures couldn't be displayed on the Global Community News Network. Although they lived in a world filled with technology, they were not tracked and recorded to the same extent that average citizens are today.
It is woefully harder not to exist today than it was yesterday.
Living life without leaving recordable, searchable clues is completely impossible today. Should we value the lives of traveling nomads or ancient cavemen who lived and died without identity? After all, haven't citizens today achieved exactly what they're convinced they desire: To be someone. To be individual. To leave a mark in the history of the world.
That's precisely what technologies have enabled us to do. We're ourselves and everyone is privy to the information that makes us ourselves.
In this digital age have we lost our souls but gained the whole world?
Thanks to Facebook I can now keep up with my high school friends. Thanks to cell phones I can ring my boss from a job I had three years ago any time. Thanks to computers I can Google my second grade classmates. Thanks to satellite photographs I can find out what my uncle's home looks like without ever visiting.
Technology is wonderful. Technology is scary. No, it's wonderful. No, it's scary!
Ah, the battle begins.
A news story circulated not too long ago that the FBI is now able to use our own cell phones as electronic surveillance, remotely activating the microphones in our mobile phones to eavesdrop on our conversations... even when the phones are off.
We've got half of the Orwellian equation down. Where's the rest?
Let's look at the computers we purchase. Now, thanks to webcams included in what seems like 90 percent of new models, consumers can visibly chat with friends overseas for free just by using the Internet. Who wouldn't want to do that?
But the same viruses that infected computers ten years ago and ravaged hard drives looking for sensitive information can stealthily enter computers and switch on webcams when users aren't aware, recording and transmitting data much like a security camera in our own homes.
1984 arrived later than expected but arrived nonetheless.
Our computers are practically always tethered to the Internet, even wirelessly, thanks to the signal we provide. But when cities and regions begin to provide wireless signals, in place of users, the network will never turn off.
An article on a tech website recently outlined how its readers can wirelessly access, steal or alter information on the RFID chips embedded in new credit cards.
Hackers, government agents and technology corporations are evolving into shadowy overlords that know how to pick up the crumbs we unknowingly drop off the table of our lives.
I argue that it will be increasingly difficult to run from those out to destroy you. That's why anyone with enough influence, money and evil can find you.
Thankfully our cell phones reveal our locations to 911 responders. But if they can tap into where our signal is coming from so can anyone with enough power.
Some people argue that the microchips in our skin will ultimately destroy us, but I believe that the microchips outside our skin are infinitely more dangerous.
Perhaps the danger lies not in the fact that electronics are embedded, but instead where they are inside of you.
A new study out recently suggests that implantable medical devices such as pacemakers are susceptible to attacks. Those with malicious intent could potentially remotely deactivate electronic devices inside the human body that sustain life by taking advantage of wireless vulnerabilities.
Or an even scarier example for investors... Now that bar codes may be replaced by identification chips, what's stopping a hacker from altering the digital data embedded in those chips, placing a lower price on an item.
Nah, not really. The rapture is coming anyway, right?
You can't really trace anyone after they literally disappear from the planet.
But should Christians really be advocates of microchips and friends on MySpace if it means taking steps toward the end times?
The Amish really had a good idea going, didn't they?
But what if Christians embraced technology? What would happen if youth groups made YouTube videos and signed kids onto Facebook? What would the world be like if Christians were the first to get microchips in their wrists that would help doctors if they were found? Should Christians promote a cashless world, where financial transactions take place in 1s and 0s instead of 1s, 5s, 10s and 20s? Such a world seemingly only indicates that someone could be locked out of the financial system very easily if discrimination against Christians materialized.
Right now the church is playing the game, but Christians will eventually reach a point where they are forced to either blend in and accept the world or shout against the taking of liberties.
We like our convenience. But we won't for long.