The following is part 1 of an interview with Daniel Lohrmann, Chief Technology Officer of the State of Michigan and author of Virtual Integrity (originally posted at TheHighCalling.org). For more information listen to our podcast interviews with Mr. Lohrmann.
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What does it mean to surf one’s values?
Surfing your values means connecting your offline values with your online world. It starts with a good understanding of the risks you face every time you enter cyberspace. Our integrity is being attacked every day, and the Internet is now at the frontline of that battle. It also means living out the implications of your faith when you connect.
I know people who are afraid to use the Internet today because of the temptations they face and their inability to block content that violates their convictions. As Christians, we have an opportunity to influence how the Internet evolves in the future. Many technology companies like Microsoft are interested in providing easier ways to surf your values in cyberspace. They rightly view online trust to include much more than just security and privacy.
How do you see the concept of online trust developing?
As we move forward over the next decade, I would rather have a few trusted Internet partners hold my data than hundreds of smaller online retailers who can’t properly secure my data in cyberspace. Think of these data brokers as similar to banks that currently hold our financial data, but these companies will hold our detailed “values” profiles. This approach can enable online experiences to revolve around our beliefs, as well as likes and dislikes. But we will control the settings. This information will be vital to provide characteristics for coming avatars (online representations of us). While this may sound like “Big Brother” to some, I believe it can enable Christians to maintain a more wholesome experience in cyberspace. Rather than filtering as we do today, websites will deliver the content that we value—personalized to our beliefs.
What suggestions do you offer to those Christians who find themselves getting caught up in blog battles while defending their religious beliefs?
First and foremost, be humble. Psalm 41:12 says “. . . In my integrity you uphold me . . .” Spurgeon’s commentary points out that God’s power and strength enable our integrity and every good gift. We should praise God that he restrains each of us from gross sin. When others sin, they show us what we would do but for his grace. Remember that most of the arguments floating around cyberspace have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years, so you probably won’t be the one to end various controversies. Ask yourself if you should even be in these conversations during work. Know what is appropriate for various situations.
Second, be kind, polite, professional, courteous, etc. Rude comments will not reflect well on you or Christianity in general. The Internet provides an impersonal channel that seems to allow us to “vent.” Usually, this is inappropriate. Ask: would I say this to the person’s face?
Third, understand the limitations of technology. Talk in person, when appropriate. I have seen professional colleagues who were sitting right next to each other send long emails back and forth that became more and more heated in tone. Once I even intervened and called an impromptu meeting in my office to talk through a situation.
Finally, think about the long-term impact of your words. Will I view this comment as positive five years from now? Will this blog reflect well on my marriage or company?
What’s wrong with a bit of harmless flirting or horseplay online to break up the monotony of the workday given you’ll probably never meet these folks in person?
Others are watching and things often get out of control. Are you being a good Christian witness? Remember that whatever you say or do online is a reflection of your actual character. Tragically, there are even married people who flirt—which is clearly wrong.
Cyberspace often acts like an accelerator, bringing devastating consequences to careers, families, marriages, and even your faith. Oftentimes, people go way too far down the primrose path before they stop. Like a snowball rolling down the hill, you may be surprised how difficult it is to break bad habits. I have seen people fool themselves by saying that their online activities were harmless—right before significant problems surface.
The temptation people face is to go a bit further than yesterday. The old “thrill” no longer satisfies, and they click one more time. I’ve seen this behavior over and over again. Stay away from the cliffs, and you won’t go over the edge.
Why do you encourage people to seek out an accountability partner?
Accountability works in every area of life. We wrongfully think that accountability is for losers. But the best athletes, musicians, and employees all seek accountability with coaches and mentors to help. We value accountability for diets such as Weight Watchers and for exercise regimes. Why? Because accountability helps us succeed at our goals. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul exhorted Timothy to “set an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
While online, accountability partners will reduce the temptations you face. By simply being open with others about your surfing habits, you will improve your effectiveness. Contrary to popular opinion, I think accountability enables more possibilities such as social networking at work. If managers know that staff are not abusing the privilege of Facebook, they will be more likely to support the use of social networking tools at work.
I use Covenant Eyes at home, and my wife gets my accountability report. This simple step reduces many temptations. Another misperception is that experts don’t need accountability. To the contrary, the best and brightest are the most tempted to break the rules—because they know how to not get caught.
What concerns do you have about social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, with a particular emphasis on how you see these sites being utilized by employers?
Social networking can be a great tool to help businesses connect with customers. However, these tools can also be abused. How much is too much? Is the activity work-related? If not, where are the lines drawn for personal use? It all goes back to accountability and the many shades of gray. We need guidelines for a mobile work force, and the answers are getting tougher to enforce. One or two bad apples will no doubt hurt others who use these tools responsibly.
The trick is to have work teams build in transparency and accountability with meaningful boundaries. In my book I suggest that we may want to use the “Honor Code” model that we used at Valparaiso University. We must trust but verify, or companies will throw out the social networking baby with the bathwater. New tools are coming from technology companies like Websense to help this process, but in the meantime, don’t abuse the privilege of social networking—if your work allows it.
You didn’t mention Twitter in your book. How can this tool be utilized effectively by Christians?
Twitter has really taken off since I finished writing Virtual Integrity. It is a great example of how rapidly Internet tools are evolving. People use Twitter because it is so easy to send “tweets” (short messages) about what’s happening to anyone who is listening—with generally no permission required or friends to deny. While blogs can take a long time to write, Twitter is about quick hits.
Twitter provides a great way to follow hot news on various topics, as well as links to interesting blogs. You can follow interesting people or Christian conference proceedings live, with the ease of IMing on portable devices, and the advantages of infinite reach. Twitter has been used extensively during emergency situations to provide the latest updates, such as the California wildfires or Chinese earthquakes. One church even had a “Twitter Sunday.”
Twitter isn’t for everyone, and Internet users seem to either love or hate tweets. Keep in mind: Twitter messages are searchable by anyone via a Google or a Twitter search. Very personal information can easily become public, so remember to stop and think before you click.
How is one’s soul in danger in many office settings?
In our postmodern world, few people want to label various websites or activities as “wrong.” We want to believe: “I’m okay and you’re okay.” But getting back to basics, what does this web surfing have to do with getting our job done? If you find yourself continually visiting inappropriate sites, examine your motives.
At work, many people are in front of a computer for the entire day, so temptations to do wrong can become overwhelming. Popular websites are attracting visitors with sexy videos, movie star stories, and other content that may seem intriguing—but may lead you down the primrose path. These sites are functioning as crossover bridges to dangerous places online. Christians are becoming addicted to harmful content that affects their faith in negative ways. We’re not just talking about porn. Shopping and sports sites can even cause problems.
How can faith-at-work programs address the concerns that you’re raising?
Many Christians want to incorporate their faith into their office life in practical ways. Faith-based programs provide opportunities to engage in such dialogue which can explore Internet activity at the office. Some great examples and ideas for your office can be found at The High Calling as well as websites like Faith & Work Life.
I believe that faith-at-work programs enable helpful discussion about values and beliefs in the office. As Christians discuss their faith, along with company values such as integrity, online conduct will inevitably come up. At the core, these are heart issues, and open discussions about appropriate and inappropriate conduct at work can only help your personal situation.
Why do you like Christian websites like TheHighCalling.org?
This is a wonderful website which explores the many moral aspects and challenges to integrity that Christians face at work. I like what the editor, Dan Roloff, said in a recent article: “. . . We’re continually bombarded by moral choices, our prayer is to lead us not into temptation in order that we may stand before God as wholly sound people.” God’s Word challenges us to work out the implications of our faith, and The High Calling website certainly encourages and enables that process.
In many ways, Christian websites allow us to surf our values right now. We see content that lifts us out of the mud and mire. TheHighCalling.org can help us connect our offline and online values. And yet, we also visit YouTube and many other secular websites, so we need workable strategies beyond just Christian websites. Americans usually shop at Wal-mart and not Christian-mart—both offline and online. Nevertheless, TheHighCalling.org offers an oasis in cyberspace.