Friday, May 2, 2008

The future of biblical studies and technological tools

After the church in which she'd grown up closed for lack of money and pastors, Paula switched to one of the nondenominational congregations that Wal-Mart had added to many of its retail/social complexes.
Have your attention? That is a quote from a fascinating article in last Sunday's Washington Post Magazine. (Free registration may be needed to read the whole article) The article posed two possible scenarios for what the Washington D.C. might be like in the year 2025. The quote is but a very minor part of a picture in which energy costs, terrorism concerns, and market influences have conspired to make outfits like Wal-Mart and Google (how will you survive without Google LifeServices in 2025?) pervasive influences in a very changed society.

In addition to the implications for the Church and for community as suggested above, one of the other things that made an impression on me in the article was the repeated references to responses to cyber-terrorism and cyber-spamming/manipulation. I.e., we should probably expect a lot more attacks via the Internet. Some will be intended to disrupt economies and social institutions (cyber-terrorism). Some will simply be intended to manipulate your opinion or your pocketbook. If you think spam is bad now, imagine a time when it will be very difficult to verify what really is true information. Everything on the network will be suspect.

I recommend that you read the article for yourself, but it also got me to thinking about the implications for what I tend to be doing a lot of, namely, using technology to enable and enhance biblical studies. What might we expect in 2025?
  1. I suspect that we will gladly be paying for more secure Internet-type services. I.e., I am not sure what exactly the Internet will look like, but wide-open Internet access will no longer be viable. Perhaps there will be all sorts of VPNs (virtual private networks) providing security and filtering, and it will be via such VPNs that we might connect in to the larger network. I suppose this is simply an extension of what we have now, but I think the change of perception will be significant.
  2. For example, will anyone still be bothering with blogging? Will the cacophony of voices be so overwhelming that it becomes impossible to manage? Will it be so difficult to determine what is true and reliable from what is intentionally manipulative or deceptive that our circles of reference will actually contract rather than enlarge? I have managed to keep a reasonably small list of biblical studies related blogs in my RSS feed, but I can see a time when it will be too much work for bloggers to keep up and too much uncertainty to make it worthwhile for readers.
  3. I am also wondering, then, if we might actually become more dependent on private resources/devices rather than network resources. I.e., it will be lots easier to secure a personal device not connected to any network, and I will be more confident in working with guaranteed secure resources not based on the network. This does mean that I believe that someone will still be developing and providing technological resources for biblical studies, but I also suspect that the choices will be greatly reduced. We are already seeing the convergence of best features of the various Bible programs, and as this trend continues, the only differentiating factor will be cost. I just hope we aren't all buying Wal-Mart or Google Bible software after they buy up every other current company in this field...
I am pretty sure I am way underestimating what is going to be possible in 2025. The Washington Post article did reflect on the future needs for community and interpersonal connections, and I too believe that there will still be a need for the kind of community we experience in Church or synagogue and in the company of other biblical scholarly sorts. Maybe all these online services (Google Docs, blogs, wikis, WindowsLive, etc.) will be able to keep ahead of all the security issues, and network resources will still be viable. Maybe we will be doing virtually everything in what is now being called the 'cloud' of online reality. Maybe we will all have embedded devices that virtually embed us in the network. Would you be willing to have a chip embedded in you that made the whole Bible--with real transparency to the original language texts and full search and supporting secondary resources--available to you simply by thinking it? It would be an interesting way for Jeremiah 31:33-34 to become a reality!

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