I have recently finished reading this book, and it does raise some interesting questions. I will try to explore them without giving anything away about the story. There are three aspects that struck me:
1. When everything that we know is online, we need to know who owns the online. When we search the web, we use Google, who know and take the details of what we search for and when. When we communicate with others with email, we use Google, who track what we do, who we talk to, what we say.
When we use our phones, we might use an Android phone, again, written by Google. They can collect information from there about what we do on our phones, what applications we install.
Our web browser may well be Google too, if we use Chrome, and when we want to know where to go, we use Google maps. We trust Google with a lot of our information: Google owns the online.
Of course, we might refuse to go down the Google route, and have Microsoft or Apple as the organisation who own our online presence. But the truth is, one or other does, and we should know this, know that these companies own the online world.
Not to mention that if we buy anything online, there is a good chance that Amazon is involved. They do control a substantial portion of the online e-commerce world, by providing supply and distribution, or by owning the cloud computers that the software is running on.
However much we might not like it, we do have a lot of out information online, we all have a presence in the online world. We should know who owns it, and we should consider how much we trust them.
2. It is easy to forget the online world can impact the real world, the offline world. I for one do try to separate my online persona and my off-line one: not that I am different people between these environments, just that I try not to let on too much about who I am in real life online. Part of this is because information publicly available online is not safe.
But the reality is that someone who was determined could identify who I was in real life based on my online activity. This is true for all of us, however careful we are, not least because any information that is required to be made available to the public is available online, making it much easier to trace people. It is also the case, because a whole lot of information that is not public is accessible online, with a bit of work (not always legitimate).
So the truth is, if you don't like what I write in one of my blogs you could, if you were so inclined, find out who I am, where I live or work, and pay me a visit. I can hope that you post comments to me instead, engage in discussion. But I cannot dismiss the reality that the online writing and my real life could - and occasionally do - intersect.
3. Online community is real. I have been in so many discussions about whether online "church" is a real substitute for physical community. The truth is that it can be, although it need not be. I suspect a lot of the dismissal of "online community" comes from people who have been part of less welcoming and friendly communities.
But I have been a part of the Ship of Fools discussion boards for many years now. Aspects of this community are real and genuine, as much so as any other community. Occasionally, I will meet members of the community, which is always nice. I also meet other people, other Christians, who provide me with face-to-face interaction.
This last week, I have been on holiday, but someone I know has been extremely ill and requiring hospitalisation. I have kept up with events, and offered my prayer though technology. I have been as much part of that mini-community as I can, while being away, and that has been valuable. It is no less real, just because it is electronically mediated. Of course, practical help is harder, but I know there are people giving that.
Of course, there are dangers. There is always the danger that someone will present themselves online differently to how they actually are. I have experienced this, and it can be very damaging to a community. I have also experienced someone doing this in a real life group, and it is equally damaging. It is not purely an online problem. There is a danger that people will substitute virtual interaction for "real life" interaction - in the same way that people can spend all of their time at church and in church activities, and avoid anything and anyone else.
The book overall does have weaknesses. It may be a little simplistic. It may be a little more Willy Wonka than The Matrix. But it is a good read, and it does make you think. Well, it made me thing, at least.