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STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/16/2008


FEATURE: Living Icons--Handle with Care

Living Icons-- Handle With Care
by Theo Nicolakis '93

We have become a wired generation. Statistics from the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that over 73 percent of American adults use the Internet, which permeates daily life and is transforming our society. Activities we once did offline--including spiritually oriented ones--have online equivalents. Whether it is reading Scripture, joining prayer groups, playing games, finding driving directions, or looking up movie times, we are experiencing an ever-growing synthesis between our online activities and the real world. The line between these two worlds is quickly disappearing. For some in our society the line is already gone.

Our online experiences are no longer confined to a computer. Today everything is completely portable: telephones, music, movies, television and the Internet. According to statistics from the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), over 244 million Americans today have wireless/cellular service. Since 2001 Apple has sold over 110 million iPods. Whether it is at a store, out for a walk, at the movies, or even at church, cell phones and iPods are absolutely everywhere and used by almost everyone. We are living and witnessing an unprecedented shift to becoming a mobile society with constant connectivity.

These radical technology changes have happened within the short span of the past 15 years, and technological advancement is not going to slow down anytime soon. Quite the opposite; it is going to accelerate--with even more convergence and miniaturization. In other words, what once required two, three, or more devices will now be done with just one; and as time goes on these devices will become smaller, lighter and more powerful.

Just look at Apple's incredible iPhone or any mobile phone sold today. These are not simply cell phones in the traditional sense. Rather, they are full-fledged, mobile entertainment devices. They can play audio and video content; take pictures or capture movies; organize your day with incredible calendaring and email functionality; let you surf the Internet; and keep you connected with your business or social network through voice and text communications. The cell phone as we once knew it no longer exists.

Seeing the power of portable entertainment, adult content providers have already developed and are distributing pornographic material that is specifically formatted for cell phones, the iPhone, iPods, and even PlayStation portables--the very devices that many of us would readily give to our children! Today Playboy offers a service called iPlayboy that offers any iPhone or iPod user--regardless of age--free photographs of scantily clad women in provocative poses. Subscribers to a premium service have full access to a larger library of all-nude photos, videos, wallpapers and more. Playboy is promoting iPlayboy as portable technology that puts Playboy's sexiest models at your fingertips. Unfortunately Playboy is simply one of many mobile adult content providers. All of them want a piece of the huge adult mobile content market, which it is estimated will be worth a staggering $2.1 billion by 2009.

For the past several years I have served on the Executive Committee of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP). Working with a national coalition of evangelical and nonevangelical churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Muslims and Jews has been an incredible blessing. We have had several meetings with wireless industry executives and various levels of the U.S. government. Thankfully we have made some progress with the wireless industry on these serious issues that ultimately affect all of us and threaten our children.

However, just as we are making strides against mobile pornography, technological advancements are presenting challenges on new fronts. The explosion of virtual social worlds such as Second Life (www.secondlife.com) has changed the rules yet again. These new virtual realities are offering users a mixture of entertainment, social interaction and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Perhaps the biggest difference with these new services is that any user can develop their own virtual world, create their own virtual character (which may be completely different from who they really are) and define their virtual experience. As a result, Second Life is now filled with virtual sex clubs and other depraved creations that are distorting the brilliance of the underlying technology.

As director of information technology and Internet ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, it is my responsibility to adapt emerging technologies for Christian ministry and stay abreast of new dangers. More than ever I see the need for a solid, Christian approach to technology instead of unending, fragmented reactions to specific developments. Otherwise we will be constantly working on things that are already obsolete.

I believe what we need is a theological approach that can be applied to any advancement. Like a good spiritual doctor, we have to cure the root of the problem instead of treating only the symptoms. Having studied and grappled with these issues as a technologist and theologian, it is clear to me that the problem is not the technology. Instead, I think the real problem stems from how we adopt technology in our own lives and use it with each other.

If we look at the opening chapter of Genesis, we see the simple yet profound truth that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word used for "image" is icon. The Bible tells us that each and every one of us is a living icon of God, and we are called to grow in His likeness.

Scripture shows that as Christians we have a twofold challenge with any technology: First, we must apply technology in ways that help us grow in the image and likeness of God. Technology should enhance our spiritual growth and relationship with God-not detract from it. Secondly, as evidenced by Matthew 25:31-46 and 1 John 4:20-21, we need to treat each other as living icons of God. We should use technology as though we are using it with the Lord Himself.

I firmly believe that recognizing the living icon of God in one another will make us think twice about any actions that could potentially embarrass, demean or hurt another person. Such a perspective counteracts the degrading imagery of mobile pornography, predatory attacks, cyber-bullying, digital voyeurism or any other icon-tarnishing behavior that technology can empower. Whenever I have grappled with tough issues in digital ministry, I have always returned to Genesis to provide me with the proper theological perspective and framework of who we truly are as human beings.

Thus in my recent travels and lectures on mobile pornography, I have often ended my presentation with Genesis and talked about the human person as a living icon of Christ. I have told audiences that this was not so much a presentation on mobile pornography as a lecture on Christian anthropology.

For this reason, when I worked on developing the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's website (www.goarch.org), I made sure we had an icon of our Lord Jesus Christ on the home page and every subsequent page throughout the site. For if we can stay focused on Christ, the true icon, then we have the potential to transfigure any technological advancement for the glory of God.


Theo Nicolakis was an A. J. Gordon Scholar and Pike Scholar. He received his Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and his Master of Science in Management and Systems from New York University. He is responsible for all technology operations as well as creating and implementing the digital ministry strategy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He also represents the archdiocese on a number of initiatives including the Communications Commission of the National Council of Churches, and the American Bible Society's National Church Leadership Council. Theo lectures for the Orthodox Church on a variety of technology ministry topics and is currently lecturing across the United States on mobile pornography and virtual social networks.

 

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