By Charles Layton
This week, in a restaurant, I happened to glance at a man and woman sitting at a nearby table. The man had his hands in his lap, his head bowed and eyes lowered, and I just assumed that he was saying grace. But then, when I was able to see his hands, I noticed his thumbs were moving. He wasn’t praying, he was text messaging.
Actually, he could have been praying. Many people use their Internet gadgetry for religious purposes. They attend live-streamed church or synagogue services. They log onto prayeronline.org, where one can submit a prayer request to the website’s “prayer team.” Or they teleport themselves to any number of little cyber-chapels where one can do one’s own praying in peace and quiet. These sites are the natural descendants of Dial-A-Prayer, which dates from the 1950s, when telephones actually had dials. (Today, of course, we have Dial-A-Prayer.com.)
Some years ago there was a movement in the Catholic Church proposing Saint Isidore of Seville to be the patron saint of the Internet. There was even a prayer people could recite as they went online. It asked that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, God should “direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and let us treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter.” (If only.)
It’s hard to think of any aspect of our lives that hasn’t immigrated onto the Internet. Religion, yes. Education, yes. Commerce and shopping, definitely yes. Filing income tax returns, yes. Work, yes; millions of people telecommute from home, and millions more, even if they’re in an office, conduct business online. This includes those many millions worldwide who send emails telling me I’ve won the Spanish National Lottery.
Our children and grandchildren are showing us how social life will be in the near future; it will be centered online, with messages and photos and videos flashing at ever-increasing speed throughout the neighborhood, the school, the city, the world. Have you not noticed that, unless forbidden to do so, children will text message at the dinner table? Or while sitting beside you in a car? Or late into the night, lying in the dark in their little beds, their intent little faces dimly illuminated by the phone screen?
Courtship and sex online? – Let’s not even go there.
Politics and diplomacy? Just recently we’ve seen an interesting example in the movie “Innocence of Muslims,” which seems to have originated in California and led to riots and murder in North Africa. It’s not unthinkable that our next war will not only be covered on YouTube, as wars are now; it will be started by YouTube.
In the early ‘90s Ross Perot, as a presidential candidate, promoted the idea of electronic democracy, or E-democracy as it is now called. He argued that direct democracy, the kind the Athenians had, was preferable to indirect (representative) democracy, and that, thanks to computers, this would now be practical. We could hold town meetings via computer, we could vote via computer – and not just vote to elect our public officials; we could all, as E-citizens, vote to decide specific policy.
For instance, should we bomb Iran? That’s a question too important for a relatively small group of government officials to decide. Let’s have a national E-poll of all the citizens.
But if we ever do go that far, I might have to take refuge at Dial-A-Prayer.com.