Cyberspace Hook, Line, and Sinker

Cyberspace Hook, Line, and Sinker

Jim: "They say hanging a compact disc from your car's rear view mirror will foul up police radar guns."

Andy: "They also say aluminum foil in your hubcaps will do the job."

Bob: "Where'd you hear this? Who are 'THEY'?"

Jim: "A friend of a friend sent me an E-mail with an attachment."

Andy: "Jim forwarded it to me."

It seems "They" are still at work passing along all sorts of information that may or may not be true. It is true that most of us appreciate the work of our local law enforcement personnel—until they stop us for a speeding violation. Actually, none of the earlier mentioned strategies will fool a radar device used to measure your speed. Each was scientifically tested on a popular television program to prove that none of them work.¹

Why do we need a "They" in our lives? What does that say about us? Whether we use the Internet or not, such information gets passed into all arenas of society.

Information: A Blessing and a Curse

In 1989, Richard Saul Wurman wrote a book called Information Anxiety. He predicted we would experience "anxiety" as an ever-increasing amount of information overwhelmed us. This information overload has two sides:

The blessing of continuous knowledge updates means we can obtain just-in-time information to help us live better lives. We can search on the web for research being conducted on a particular health concern. We can find out what is happening on the other side of the globe in seconds. The curse is realized when our tendency to believe whatever we read, regardless of the source, finds us repeating misinformation to others and falling for the devious plots created by criminal minds.²

Scams, Shams, & Shysters

You receive an E-mail from your bank warning about identity theft and requesting your personal information be entered on-line for the purpose of a security check. It looks official—as though it came from the bank. It even displays the bank's logo. This message did not originate from your bank. Indeed, this came from identity thieves scamming you into giving them your personal information.

None of us likes to look dumb. Yet the same people who are cautious and vigilant regarding the possibility of crime or misfortune in their daily lives can become unusually gullible while reading their E-mail. We tend to fall too often for various scams, shams, and shysters. What compels us to believe something when we don't know who said it or even if it's true?

Why do we believe these stories?

Social scientists suggest that people:

  • Have a need to know, understand, and make sense of their world, which is often used as a means to reinforce and defend the way we presently view the world.
  • Need some metaphor or symbol to represent their fears, and some manner in which they can deal with those fears.
  • Have the predisposition to believe anything anyone says as long as the source is perceived as credible and the message was sent on a personal basis.

Making Sense and the Need to Know

Think of the Internet as the world's market place. It's an arena where people gather, talk, and exchange information. It's as natural as a person with car engine problems with their car seeking out Bob down the street who "knows all about engines." In a world that changes so fast it is easy to feel lost, confused, and "behind the times." Admit it. How are you going to teach yourself the latest features on your computer when your old VCR is still repeatedly flashing "12:00?"

In our desire to make sense of the world in this environment there is a temporary comfort experienced when we get the "inside word" about a topic from the Internet.

This is especially true when the message matches our own worldview or addresses a societal fear such as terrorism or safety.

We also tend to overlook the fact that a forwarded E-mail was sent to 80 people because the address line contains our name. Add to this dynamic that we received the E-mail from someone we know and trust. It must be true!

A Christian response God's standard for His people is found in the Scriptures. As members of the Body of Christ we are to grow up and mature in the faith. "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). We are, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to become as "wise as serpents" and as "harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16, KJV).

As mature followers of Christ we can be wise enough not to believe everything we read and possess a gentle, simple, child-like faith as we "walk in the light, as he is in the light" (1 John 1:7). The old saying is true. "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."

Did you get that E-mail?

Dan Croy resides in San Diego, where he serves on the faculty at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Holiness Today, July/August 2006