You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
- Galatians 5:13-18
Thinking about biting, the word “bite” or “bites” appears eight times in the NIV. Six times “bite” or “bites” is used to refer to snake, viper, or serpent bites. Once Philip exclaims that there are 5,000 people to be fed and it would take half a year’s wages to purchase enough food for each to take one bite of bread (John 6:7), but we know what happened next. If not read John 6. Then there is the reference above, devouring each other, meaning doing the opposite of loving each other. And, in a way, that ties in well with the topic.
What hand am I possibly biting? That of WordPress, the engine that makes this blog go.
I recently watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. Rev. David Robertson, the Wee Flea, suggested the video, and he had not steered me wrong in the past. I was already lamenting on how the COVID lockdown and the severe restrictions were affecting the social skills development of young people, but social media had already put a large dent in that before COVID. Then Rev. Robertson wrote his post, and I watched the video. The problem is so much worse than I imagined.
I believe that it is Tristan Harris, a former Google ethicist, who said in the documentary, “How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don’t know you are in the Matrix?” The key point that the documentary makes is that the software designed to maximize the cash flow going into social media company coffers has gone far beyond just examining your likes and dislikes. The software delves into manipulating you to click a “like” button or opening a post where more ads can be watched and the company makes more money. In other words, you are the product that social media is selling, a dehumanized mouse clicker or thumb poker.
The drawback to the documentary is that it is a secular documentary, never looking at God as the solution, suggesting that the government place regulations on what social media can do. People are searching for something. People need God, but there is a resistance in looking in God’s direction in the secular world. The software determines what you like and maximizes it. The software determines what you do not like and eliminates it. Only a hand full of social media company bosses even know what the criteria for these decisions are. Thus, only a hand full of people in the world are manipulating the masses and literally changing the landscape of the earth. NOTE: The tremendous divide in USA politics is directly proportional to the increase in social media use and social media addiction – per the documentary, due to feeding you only the viewpoint that you like and denigrating the opposing view – all to increase the profits of the most profitable companies in the world.
Thinking of social media addiction, just two days ago, a small monster truck, medium sized pickup, suspended above the height of a car, with each tire about the width of our four car tires put together, was making a right-hand turn, but the driver was texting, using both hands to text at the time. As the truck made the turn, there was a bridge. We were on the bridge and we nearly scraped the railing trying to avoid the collision with half his truck on our side of the bridge and not correcting his turn. As miracles happen, he moved one hand to the steering wheel just in time. Often people get killed when a driver texts while driving straight on a straight road, but in a turn from one road to another? Can the text not wait? Yes, the boy was addicted.
But back to the drawback in the film. When the social media software eliminates things that you do not like from your search engine results, news feeds, social media scrolling (likened to a slot machine in the documentary), etc., they limit your view to your way of thinking is good and all other ways of thinking are evil. There is no fact checking. The documentary discussed the concept of flat-earthers and how many were duped into thinking that the earth was flat through social media manipulation. The documentary mentions the “possible” influence of social media in the 2016 elections, stating that if Russia tampered with the elections, they did not do so using hackers, but simply manipulated the Facebook software to shift public opinion. The head of Facebook, when confronted, could not deny the charge, but he claimed no responsibility either. Yet many social media companies often censor opinions other than the ones they espouse, even when the opposing censored view is proven to be true.
Social media, in creating myopic views and perpetuating fake news based on prejudices, has destabilized governments, mentioning the Philippines in the documentary, and led to religious persecution. Of course, the documentary steered clear of Christian persecution, but mentioned Muslim persecution in Myanmar, allegedly manipulated by the Myanmar government itself. Another quote from the documentary, “Technology has no truth. Thus, technology cannot fix fake news.”
My point is that people are searching. They have a God-shaped hole in their lives, but they seem to have a filter, “Anything but Christianity.” The concept of anything but Christianity was mentioned in a book by Os Guinness, Impossible People. I will be using that book in the near future, but I am not halfway through the book yet.
Now for the biting of the hand, a bit. When I first started this blog site, I would go to the suggestions at the bottom of my posts, the ones that WordPress suggests are “similar.” I got perturbed in that many times the views on the “similar” posts were the opposite of what I had just said. I did not get angry, in that I knew that WordPress was using Artificial Intelligent (AI) that had to learn who I was before they could make better suggestions. By the time the AI caught up with who I was, I had already found so many other people with similar views that I never click on those suggestions.
Yet, it is through those suggestions that WordPress can create a myopic viewpoint within the reader. After the first few clicks, I have never been tempted to click those suggestions since. I do not even notice them anymore. And I have not clicked a suggestion on social media either, unless it is from someone that I trust.
This blog site is set up to not have advertisements. Yet, this year I have had several posts that continue to have views months and months after being posted. Having WordPress suggest these posts at the end of other people’s posts does not increase the WordPress advertisement exposure, but it keeps people reading and clicking. By the way, these added views almost never get “liked.” Something in the AI software that caused them to suggest a post from this site did not match what the visiting person would consider likable. Yet, it seems that as more people view a particular post, WordPress seems to use that viewed post as a suggestion more often, liked or not liked. And as people like what they read, the daily or weekly readers seem to increase. If I allowed advertisements, I might be a suggested site more often.
As for social media accounts, I automatically send links to three social media accounts, only one, Facebook, has randomly advertised one of the posts on this site that has led to a multitude of extra views. I do not tweet other than the post links, and Twitter has never figured out who I am, thus Twitter and Tumblr links to this blog site have not developed into many readers.
On the other hand, I have only been attacked by one internet troll, wanting to disagree with my beliefs. When someone with opposite views, yet still claiming to be a Christian, finds this site, they had to search extremely hard to overcome the bias designed in the software.
What is good about this software bias is that you do not get insulted or persecuted for having the beliefs that you have, at least not as much as if it were totally random. Yet, you may not hear the other side of the coin at all. I do not think that any of us, not even the college trained theologians, have a perfect concept of God, perfect interpretations of the Bible, or the perfect answers to life’s questions. Is the perfection a blend of varying extremist views, somewhere in the middle? Or is God totally outside our understanding altogether? God is Holy. We are not. A wonderful friend and Bible study teacher once explained that “Holy” means “Wholly other.” In other words, God is something that we are not, and thus hard to understand. Yet, it is the desire to understand God’s holiness that drives the true believer.
So, in showing the good and bad of these AI suggestions, maybe I just nibbled at the hand that feeds me, but as for the other social media sites, I am personally doing what the documentary suggests, either deleting notifications or turning notifications off. Even if I like what they suggest, I do not wish to be manipulated.
What I wish is to know more about is the mysterious God who loves me, protects me, and guides me. And if that can be done through internet research, I would be all for it, but God is revealed in many ways that the internet could never understand. The photo above is a view from and of the hill opposite our home. The photo did not capture a tenth of the color in the trees, but maybe enough. It was cloudy. Rain was coming. As the weather is changing rapidly, the leaves may not remain long (maybe gone before this post is scheduled), but God revealed his great sense of beauty in taking a different route home after being at the church.
We can also see the presence of God in the cooing of an infant, in the wagging of a dog’s tail, and in the song of a songbird. In fact, regardless of how much I read about God, on the internet or off line in books and the greatest book, the Bible, I find so much more in seeing God in His creation, combining what I have read and understood with what I have seen and cannot begin to comprehend. Sure, science can explain how leaves change and the technology of the “why that they change.” But why did God make the color change so vibrant and beautiful, other than to cause us to wonder at His greatness?
So, if you can watch the documentary, do so. And if you can delete your social media notifications or stop them entirely, do so. Be careful of what things the computer or phone or television (the unholy trinity of screens) suggest you to view. But rather than just shutting off the world, go out and see the world that God created. Marvel at His Glory; praise His Holy Name.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.