How does access to information impact our view of authority?

I recently sat at a virtual roundtable for Youthworker Journal where we discussed the impact of technology on teens.  This particular question posed a very interesting dilemma–one I haven’t thought much about. Here’s how I responded. I would be interested in getting some other opinions.

“How does the multitude of information that teens have access to through technology impact their understanding of authority? How does this, in turn, influence their understanding of Scripture, the church, and God?”

Well, on one hand, I’m afraid that the days of the beautifully bound Encyclopedia Britannica sets are gone.  Not only does information change too fast to bind it forever into immovable text, but the way the information is compiled is changing.  No longer is it ok for one smart Encyclopedia Britannica guy to write out the things we need to know.  Now we feel more comfortable accepting the ideas of lots of “pretty smart”, but anonymous guys to provide us with answers. The new Wikipedia strategy is that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.  In other words, if enough people come to a consensus, the information must be more true than if one guy simply types it up.  This change in information gathering clearly belies a lack of trust in authority figures and can potentially translate into a developing lack of trust in documents and teachings that are not fluid and emanate from only one source.

On the other hand, I don’t see this as a sustainable trend.  I believe we seek permanence in the things that are important.  For instance, according to a 2008 article in Newsweek by Tony Dokoupil, the Wikipedia approach to information is slowly changing. There is a “mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information…” 

The bottom-line is that students have always struggled with authority and people telling them what to do. I believe that today’s students, however, have an even greater need for a place where truth is not developed by the mob and God is not something that changes from one day to the next.

4 Replies to “How does access to information impact our view of authority?”

  1. Nicely stated. And for that reason, my encyclopedias still retain their place of dusty honor on the bottom shelf. They will not be relegated to the library used book sale, nor placed on the garage sale table. I want to keep them for comparison's sake, so one day, if necessary, I can pull one out and say, "See, this is how it was — and still is."

  2. Well said..It is great innovative thought to find Wikipedia approach to information .I agree that the bottom-line is that students have always struggled with authority and people telling them what to do.Thanks for sharing your information.

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