Standard disclaimer: I’m not an expert in computer technology. I’m just farther down the road than a lot of folks who find they have to learn something about computers simply because they use them so much. Most people refuse to learn even as much as they should, so it makes people like me look like technicians. My only real interest in writing about computer technology is pastoral; I’m trying help my fellow believers in pragmatic considerations of their faith.
The Network Civilization is already here, slowly eclipsing Western Civilization. Stuff like this seldom happens overnight. The difficulty for us is keeping track of trends in terms of opportunities we can exploit for the mission of reflecting God’s glory into a fallen world. My heart sees that a critical element in human activity for the future involves something akin to what experts discuss under the heading of “cyber warfare.” I don’t much care for the term, but that’s what they use.
Traffic between humans includes information, goods, services and conflicts. Already most of this depends on the global computer network, AKA virtual space. Cut off that network and you cannot imagine the pain and chaos that would follow. People know this instinctively. While the underlying technology can and should change to something more sane, I suspect it will not. Too many actors holding the critical resources that interest everyone else are unwilling to invest those resources in a better form of networking because the resources are already allocated to other things. It’s an aggregate human decision and that’s the way things go.
Don’t get too distracted by the global economic downturn. The resources aren’t gone; they are controlled by people who don’t use them directly and don’t have any intention of taking actual possession. In the natural trend of things, they will eventually lose that control, because the remoteness of that control prevents exploitation and they can’t be hidden away from others forever. The envy and relative deprivation of the masses will result in a shake up, but it’s difficult to predict how such things will play out.
Nor can I tell you how God will use you as these things progress. He intends to show His glory, and is quite willing to give us a share in it if we are determined in our hearts to be available. I can tell you what I believe these things mean for me, at least in terms of some elements.
Microsoft is an example of a major player that missed good investment opportunities in the past. In the past few years, the issue of system security became significant, but they invested too little too late to actually secure a better place in the future. They blew off the mobile market until it was too late. Google (Android) now dominates that segment, though it turns out their product is hardly more secure — Linux can be screwed up, too. This simply reflects the nature of commercial (for-profit) operations.
I seriously doubt there will be any kind of doomsday attack on any of the dominant OSes on the market. It’s the nature of technology that makes it too much a moving target. By the time someone can marshal the resources and focus their genius on taking total control remotely, the target would be obsolete. The return on investment would likely be negative anyway. In other words, it’s possible but highly unlikely. What we are seeing right now is a serious hard focus on economic advantage as the ultimate goal; intermediate goals must serve that purpose. Virtually all malware and network espionage is aimed at gaining some level of competitive financial reward.
But even that reflects a dying trend of Western Civilization. The rising Network Civilization understands profit, but isn’t quite so tightly bound to it in the same naked materialism. There are other considerations. The Open Source community itself reflects that rising moral and ethical difference as the front edge of a turning tide. You shouldn’t imagine I am trying to paint this all in rosy hues of moral goodness, but that it is quite different. Humans do have instincts and there is a hunger for trust and trustworthiness. Bogus attempts to offer this (a mere sense of security) as the cover for even more harsh controls isn’t working too well any more. Humans as a whole are seeking a renewal of trust itself and won’t easily buy such deceptions. Further, they seek it in the virtual world, a world that shares little with meat space.
Open Source is not my religion and I’m not a Linux fanboy. This is simply the means that appeals to me in my service in God’s glory. In particular, Debian has been pursuing a renewal of trust. Debian has their own explanation here, but it’s not something easily accessible to the average technology user. I find myself struggling to bridge the gap. I’m deeply disappointed at how SUSE became a senseless bag of buggy software and wrong-headed management decisions; they were my favorite a decade ago. And I could wish that Red Hat and friends would be a little less corporate-minded because I’m pretty sure that means chaining themselves to the last vestiges of the current power structure. When that power structure comes apart, I doubt that Red Hat can adjust any more quickly than the system itself. Honestly, I think FreeBSD is vastly superior in design versus Linux, but their aims and implementations exclude my personal needs.
Regardless of my sentiments, Debian is the technology future for my ministry. It’s not the best; it’s the least painful. As the global network becomes more chaotic in terms of the cyber warfare stuff, we are going to make some hard choices. If we push them away far enough from our sentiments and remind ourselves that this is all about the glory of God, that we are here only so long as we can usefully exploit this fallen context for His revelation, then we are in a better position to make those hard choices. I don’t have time and resources to test every brand of Linux and I could care less if some reader feels insulted by my choices. I don’t hate Microsoft; I don’t trust them for much, and less with every passing day. Google and Apple are no different in terms of basic intent.
Further, God may have more surprises up His sleeve regarding the whole question of global networking. I’m working along the path my heart can see, and I’m really fortunate when I can get my brain to discern my heart in any meaningful way. Don’t ape my choices; try to understand the pursuit of heart-wisdom in terms of implementation by the intellect. Follow your own heart.