Interview with Rich Tatum by Dick Tennesen:
Dick Tennesen: The Internet.
Is it a blessing from above or more like something from below? Maybe it's a little bit of both. Our subject tonight is "Integrity on the Internet" and a lot more. Maybe we'll be talking about the best and the worst of the Internet. Bob Guccioni, publisher of Penthouse Magazine said there are a lot of computer nerds emerging as porno kings.
You got it. The program is "Watch & Pray." I call it that to emphasize our two-fold calling as Christians. First of all, to pray. To pray for our leaders and for our own direction. Then to be obedient to the call to action that the Lord will give as praying, willing children. There's just no such thing as passive Christianity because the Holy Spirit will spur to action those who look to Him for direction. You see, you and I are God's instruments. The world in which He's placed us.
I need to remind you that the views expressed on the following live broadcast will, hopefully, accurately reflect those of the Holy Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and other founding documents. But they are going to be those of the hosts, the guest, and the callers that will be invited on the program later on and not necessarily those of the staff, the management, or the supporters of KFER, "Watch & Pray," or any of the other stations on which this program might subsequently be heard.
It is time to pray.
Dick Tennesen: Well, tonight our guest is Rich Tatum. He is called, among other things, a "webmaster," a title that wasn't even around probably 20 years ago. I've come to know him via the Internet--however even that remark is open to our later comments. I also attended a workshop that he led on the subject of "Integrity and the Internet."
Rich, welcome to "Watch & Pray." How are you tonight?
Rich Tatum: I'm pretty tired, but I thank you for the opportunity, Dick. I'm a newly married man, and we're in the middle of caulking a new house and moving into it. Everything is in flux right now but I'm happy to talk to you about something that has been on my heart and mind for a long time.
Dick Tennesen: Well, I'm thankful that we could work this out. We've been trying to for a few weeks, and this time really seemed best. So, just take a load off your feet. It's 9 o'clock back there, isn't it?
Rich Tatum: Yeah, the sun just set. We had really pretty sunset tonight.
Dick Tennesen: That's nice. I've never been to Springfield yet, but one of these days....
Rich Tatum: One of these days you'll bless us, and we can bless you. Come out here, let me know, and I'll take to a Thai restaurant!
Dick Tennesen: A Thai restaurant? Pacific Rim.
Rich Tatum: Good stuff.
Dick Tennesen: We've got a couple of those.
Well, we want to talk tonight about the Internet. Why don't we just jump right into it and have you tell some of the characteristics of the Internet from the workshop I attended which you led. What are the harbingers--I think that's the right word--or pitfalls for the future on the Internet? Then maybe we'll get to some more positive things later on.
Rich Tatum: It's hard to tell exactly where to start, a lot of it depends on the audience and where they're at, but I'll just jump right into it.
The premise of what I'm focusing on is that any tool you use, especially any tool you use frequently and with skill, is not only shaped by you but also shapes you to a degree.
Take, for example, a carpenter. If you take both a carpenter and a librarian into a room and have them look at it and tell you what they think, the carpenter will give you an evaluation of the room based on his experiences as a carpenter. He will see nails, and wood, and poorly laid floor boards or shingles, or whatever. A librarian, however, will look at the room and tell you what the person who owns that room is like based upon the selection of books they have there.
The things you immerse yourself in will influence you as well respond to your influence. The Internet is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal nowadays. It has an incredibly powerful ability to shape people without their awareness of it--especially in the culture that we have today which is so technologically oriented with TV and radio and media.
I mean here we are: I'm on the phone, you're on the radio. There could be hundreds or thousands or millions of people listening to us simultaneously--and we're not even batting an eye using this technology. But this tool that we're using right now is shaping the relationship you and I have. It, in turn, affects us and the way we understand each other.
Dick Tennesen: Okay. I think I see where you are going with that. You're suggesting that knowingly and unknowingly when people are using technology they are being shaped by it.
I used to say about people who watched the daytime soap operas when their husband or wife came home--I'm doing it in the 90's version here--from work they may start a fight or carry over something from the soap opera into their personal relationship without even knowing it.
Rich Tatum: It's very likely.
You know, interestingly, you sent me a sample tape of a couple of your shows which I listened to. One was about home schooling and I was reminded of the problems in education we face today because of technology. I'm convinced that one of the dangers--one of the most debilitating facets of technology today--is the sound-bite mentality that media (radio and TV--and TV especially) has encouraged us to nurture in ourselves. We are so sound-bite oriented that if you can't say what you need to say within 30 seconds or less I'll tune you out. You've got to hook my attention in the first four or five words. Then you've got to keep my attention and feed me a single nugget of information that I can retain. If you ask me to retain any more than that, I will fall asleep on you. That's one of the ways that our pervasive technology has shaped us.
One of the interesting things I found as I was doing my reading is that the more ubiquitous a technology is, the more invisible it is. The more immersed you are in technology by your culture, the less you notice it.
Dick Tennesen: Is that like "you can't see the forest for the trees?"
Rich Tatum: Exactly. You know, 30 or 40 years ago black and white TVs were popular. It was unusual for someone to have a color TV. In fact, not every household had a TV, it was the rich and the well-to-do who had the leisure to even enjoy one. It was a sign of prosperity. Nowadays, it's almost considered a God-given right to have a TV in your home. A radio is a foregone conclusion. You must be connected somehow. These instruments we use are so ubiquitous they are invisible. We think nothing of it.
The telephone is the same way. A hundred years ago, you know, many of the corporations in America would have balked at even bringing the telephone into the company if they had known that by now they would be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a month paying for long-distance calls, toll-free accounts, switchboards for their companies, and all the expenses that go into keeping a phone on an employee's desk. Today, of course, you would never think of a corporation of any size not having a phone line. It's impossible.
Dick Tennesen: Okay. Now how does all this apply to people who use their computers and go on-line? First of all, can you do some definitions? There might be some people out there who are not quite computer literate. They've heard these things, but they're just not quite sure what they mean.
Rich Tatum: First of all, not everyone has a computer in their home. Sometimes people like myself who use computers day in and day out get to thinking that everyone knows how to use one, but that's not necessarily true. Most people out there in your audience, though, will know what a computer is or have at least seen one and have, hopefully, used one or are familiar with their day-to-day use.
The Internet is nothing more than a means of connecting two or more computers together at the same time. It started in the late 60's--it had its genesis that long ago as a tool for scientists and researchers working for the government and the universities. Of course, at that time at the height of the Cold War, universities were very deeply embroiled in helping the government do their research. They were recieving a lot of government grants for military and scientific research and so university science programs and military science programs almost went hand-in-hand. Eventually researchers and scientists at far-flung parts of the country needed to cooperate and work on projects together. So they eventually came up with a way to connect these huge mainframe computers together to share electronic resources. Initially the only things they shared were text files, email, and stuff like that. This was the beginning of what we know today as the Internet.
Now, whenever a person at home wants to be a part of the Internet, they can take one of these America Online diskettes that have papered the country and, as long as they have a modem, a phone line and a computer, they can install that software and connect to America Online. They have, in that moment, become a part of the Internet. What defines that moment is that they are now able to access computing resources elsewhere than in their own computer. So, that makes them part of the Internet. So now they can send and receive information from any other computer that is also part of that same network of networks.
When you go online--which is the process of getting a disk and signing on to a service like America Online, Compuserve or through a local Internet service provider--once you've gotten connected, you are able to send and receive email, you are able to go out there and "surf the Web," or pull down information from various Web sites.
You mentioned Bob Guccioni at Penthouse in the intro to your program. Interestingly, Penthouse is one of the first magazines in the country to have gone to a an on-line issue format where people could subscribe to their on-line magazine. Omni Magazine soon followed that format. And Omni Magazine and Penthouse are really published by the same people. They paved the way for a lot of magazines, even Christian magazines to see that there is a profit to going online.
Now here's how this technology shapes people. When you get online, you are able to send and receive email, you are able to read magazines online, and you are able to get this information. Suddenly you start being affected by the way the Internet shapes relationships.
Let me talk a little about how that happens. One of the definitions we have to have in mind when we think about this is, "What is integrity?" Now I want to caution you. I am not a Luddite: I do not advocate throwing out every piece of technology you have. I don't even recommend you not use a computer. If you know how to use a computer, use it by all means! My word of caution is that we do everything seeking God's wisdom and that we have His mind in the matter before we embrace it too foolishly or erratically. We want to keep a view on integrity and wisdom.
So we ask, what is integrity? First of all, integrity requires that you know what is right and what is wrong. This requires a kind of reflection on what God wants for us--an awareness of what He has said he wants for us. That's basic ethics right there: what is right and what is wrong.
We also have to go further than that and have a commitment. A commitment to do what is right and to avoid what is bad. Without that commitment, as well as the knowledge, you can't have integrity because even the devils know to do what is right. Even the devils know Jesus, and they don't do anything about it--that's why they're the devils!
Beyond that, there's a third element that has to be in place before you can have true integrity. That third element is a public commitment to the pursuit of wisdom. A public commitment to the pursuit of what is right and an avoidance of what is wrong. See, you can know what is right. You can even do what is right and avoid the bad, but if you don't own up to it, you don't have true integrity.
Now, let me describe very briefly how the Internet affects integrity in each of those three areas.
Once you get online and you start exchanging email with your friends back and forth, the very first decision you have to make when you sign on to a service--generally, even before you can dig out your credit card to pay for the service--is what your identity is going to be. You have to decide if you are going to use your real name or if you're going to use a pseudonym. Now, I'm not going to tell you that being anonymous is always wrong. I think that there is a place for anonymity. In fact, I encourage some people to remain anonymous online because of their gender and age. Women and children are easy targets for on-line predators... I'll talk about that later, too. There are cases, especially family situations, where I wouldn't necessarily say, "Avoid anonymity." But I am saying that when you make a choice, you should know why you are making that choice.
Remember earlier when we talked about how the Internet and technology leads you into making decisions without being aware of the fact that it has shaped your decision? If this is the first decision you make when you go online--to remain anonymous--and if you haven't thought about why, then suddenly technology has robbed you of your identity and you didn't even know it. That's just one example.
That sort of apparent privacy and anonymity of cyberspace attacks that third element of integrity--public ownership of integrity. If you are not who you really are--if you go online as John Q. Smith and nobody really knows you as Dick Tennesen--John Q. Smith can say whatever he wants to say and can do whatever he wants to do, and John Q. Smith doesn't reflect on Dick Tennesen's reputation. That attacks that third element of public ownership of integrity.
Dick Tennesen: Right now are you talking about the on-line address, or your entire identity?
Rich Tatum: Both. Whenever you sign onto a service--let's just use one example, I don't mean to pick on AOL, but it's an easy one and a lot of people are familiar with it--when you sign on to AOL, they ask you invent a "screen name" to identify yourself with. I have one. It's "RichTatum". I chose that, and it happened to be available, so the service gave it to me. Now that screen name or identity also serves as my email address. So if you wanted to send email to me at AOL it would go to "richtatum (at) aol.com". So your identity becomes your address and your moniker--your handle.
Another thing the Internet does is it encourages superficiality. Here's why it does this. When you go online, there is too much information out there, and it becomes difficult to wade through all the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Earlier I had mentioned the sound-bite mentality that technology creates. It's worse online because when you get online, if you don't find that nugget that you need within the first 5 or 10 seconds of looking at a Web page, you're gone.
In fact, I have found many times, not only with my own behavior online but watching other people as I train them and watch them experience the Internet, we are easily distracted. You can start out reading about say tree frogs. Your child has a little report to do, and you're going to help him research tree frogs online. So, you go to the Internet, you do a search and look up tree frogs. You find some good information. But then, right in the middle of a page on tree frogs you see a hyperlink to a report on the rain forest in the Amazon Basin. You think, "That would be interesting," and you click on that. Suddenly, before you know it, you're off reading about Brazilian culture and music, and you don't even remember how you got there and you started out with tree frogs.
This superficiality and distraction is a byproduct of that mass of information online. To get work done, you have to be somewhat single-minded online. If you are going to do any research, you have to grab yourself by the scruff of the neck and say, "I'm going to get right at the heart of the matter and deal with this."
Also, there are so many relationships you can have online with little real effort. In five minutes I can sign onto a listserve, which is basically an email discussion group which may easily have a thousand people subscribing to it along with me. And I have suddenly broadened my "relationship horizon" by a thousand new people who are suddenly inviting me to enter into dialog with them. They're sending me email and I'm sending them email, and I don't know them. I've never met them, and I may never meet them. They have no commitment to me. I have no commitment to them, but I can say that I know them because I read their email--the email that they send me.
Guess what? Suddenly I have a thousand extremely shallow superficial relationships.
Well, if you have to be aware of what is right and wrong in order to have integrity, if your life is filled with superficial events, superficial people, and if nothing you do online has any sort of impact on anybody and if you believe that your behavior online doesn't have a real impact on people, suddenly you've lost that first peg of what integrity is--an awareness of what's right and wrong. Because there's so much stuff out there, you wind up... it all becomes lost in a gray blur.
The third thing it does is because the Internet seems to make things private, you know, you can sign on to an on-line service as John Q. Smith, so you feel things are private. You feel like you're protected by the anonymity of the Internet. Well, that lends itself to a lessening of awareness of consequence. One of the things you see with families right now, with children and everything, the violence on television and the violence in movies and entertainment and all kinds of media has nearly eliminated any sense of consequence for violence in children. Somebody told me just the other day a story about an ice cream vendor driving his truck along the road and was shot by some adolescents in the neighborhood because he didn't have the flavor they wanted. One of the kids had a gun and he shot the guy. Immediately after shooting him, someone drove by and witnessed this. What did he see? He saw a gang of children standing around laughing about the ice cream vendor bleeding on the street because to these children it was nothing more than just a guy getting shot like in a movie and life goes on. The music starts up and everyone has a good time.
The Internet is the same way. When you are anonymous, there is a tendency to view cyberspace as not really being there. There's no "there" in cyberspace. When you are interacting with somebody you know is anonymous and you're not even certain of their gender, then suddenly they become a nonperson to you. When someone sends you an email and they are angry at you--they are vituperative, and they are bashing you for something you said and you didn't even know you angered them--you can discount it because, after all, you don't know that person, you don't have a commitment to that person. They don't know you, so you can ignore them. But the consequence of this is when all the individuals out there sending you email have become depersonalized, then it doesn't matter what you say to them. It doesn't matter what you do to them. So that commitment to "do the good and avoid the bad" becomes degraded. That sense of consequence is eliminated. That second leg of integrity disappears.
Dick Tennesen: Let's do a little role-playing here. There are different things. People can go online and just sent email to friends. You and I met because, actually we haven't met face-to-face yet, but we've met over the Internet through a minister's Internet conference. One of the things that flagged your name to mine was I started getting some things intended for you because my online address is email@example.com. So yours is richtatum (at) aol.com. Of course, we were sending this and receiving messages on this Internet conference of 80 to 90 ministers. We would say, "Rich, then, of course..." and "As you know, Rich." Now there's a third Rich online. So, I was getting some fairly comical things and having to write back and say "Wrong Rich!" There's that element that can be very tame.
There's also, I think, a legitimate way that even singles can meet--I don't know how much contact you made, and I don't want to pry here, but you know you were single up to a few weeks ago. I have a male friend who is single, a Christian, and yet contacts women on the Internet, discreetly. In fact, he has talked with me about it personally and through email. But it's really those entrees just like anything else that can lead down the road to abuse, I guess. Would that be true?
Rich Tatum: This is what's interesting about this kind of medium. It is one of the best ways to get to know somebody because it is nonthreatening, plus it requires that you stop and think about what you're saying, about what your writing. It combines the best elements of correspondence with the worst elements of immediacy and anonymity. If you know somebody online--if you've already met somebody face-to-face, if you already have a preexisting relationship with somebody--the Internet can really augment that. But if the only way that you know somebody is through the cyberspace medium, then it can quickly become a very weak relationship. It's also very tempting.
I've been told that PromiseKeeper's did a study recently or some time ago, maybe a year or two ago, among the members of the PromiseKeeper's movement. They discovered--actually it wasn't that big of a surprise--but they verified that one of the single greatest temptations for married men--businessman, even ministers--is when they travel. Their biggest temptations come when they go to a strange city or some place where nobody knows them. Let me tell you why.
When we talk about integrity, most of us have integrity by accident or by default. You and I are surrounded by people who know us. We live a neighborhood where our neighbors know who we are, they know that we are Christian. We go to the supermarket and people recognize us. We go to the restaurant, and they know our names. We go to McDonald's and they know my name. You've got your wife, you've got your children, you've got your mother or your father, you've got your pastor at the church, your Sunday school teacher. You're surrounded by this whole network of people who are watching you and keeping you on top of things. The more public a person you are, the more tightly wound you are in that net of integrity. What happens is you begin to rely on that as a crutch. When you travel to another city, that net has disappeared and suddenly who you are when you are alone comes to the forefront, and that's when you are challenged.
Well, this happens when lonely people go online. You know, when a single person or even a married person goes online, especially if they are going online anonymously, suddenly that invisible network of integrity disappears. One of the things this medium nurtures in relationships is inappropriate boundaries. On the Internet we can cross boundaries that we shouldn't cross. Desmond Morris, an anthropologist, identified ten basic steps to bonding in intimacy that are almost necessary in order to have true bonding. James Dobson has picked up on this, and I was just reminded of this the other day. Somebody gave me a gift book for young married couples, and Dr. Dobson talked about these ten steps to bonding in intimacy. He says is you skip any one of those ten steps, if you miss that step and proceed too quickly into the next level of intimacy, you wind up weakening the relationship, and it has a sense of falseness about it. It becomes an unhealthy relationship. So you have to commit almost to maintaining a sense of purity and following those steps of intimacy.
Dick Tennesen: What was Desmond's last name?
Rich Tatum: Desmond Morris--he's not a Christian. He was a zoologist who became an anthropologist. Morris observed these mating rituals among chimpanzees then he began to look at people and how people approached relationships. He says one of the first stages of relationship intimacy is eye-to-eye contact. You make contact with someone, you look at their face. You make eye contact. You sense a sort of a curiosity. Then it's hand-to-hand contact. You hold each other's hand or you touch each other by the hand; you shake hands. Then it's hand to waist.
Dick Tennesen: How far are you going with this?
Rich Tatum: Well, the last three stages are sexual stages which should appropriately occur within the bond of marriage. But it's hand to waist, hand to shoulder, hand to head--one of the most intimate stages is hand to head. No one touches your head unless they're really intimate with you. Online all of those physical stages of intimacy disappear. So what happens? You have these relationships that are entirely mental and altogether too intimate because suddenly you are sharing deep secrets with people because of that nonthreatening gap that has been eliminated. You don't have to fear the feedback that is inappropriate because they're too intimate.
I've talked to couples who have admitted to me that they have had "illicit affairs" with other people online in the midst of a marriage. They didn't see it as wrong because they didn't actually physically do anything. Let me tell you, Jesus said, "If a man looks on a woman and lusts after her in his heart, he has committed adultery." That is a real person at the other end of the line when you are writing an email and describing your intimate life, describing your darkest fears, or deepest yearnings. If you started creating that kind of intimate bond with somebody online, and if you're married or if you're single waiting to be married, you're setting yourself up for a fall or deception, or an unhealthy relationship at best.
Dick Tennesen: We're really talking about the power of communication for people who are, perhaps, very, very hungry for intimate communication.
Well, we're talking with Rich Tatum, a webmaster from Springfield, Missouri. We're going to take a quick break and then open the phone lines. Believe it or not, we're at the halfway mark here. Don't anybody go away....
And we're back on "Watch & Pray" here with Rich Tatum from Springfield, Missouri. Before we get to talking again, if you've got a question, any question other than what happens on January 1, 2000, to computers... I'm just kidding a little bit about that. But we're going to be hearing about that for the next three years. Call us at 464-8295 locally or toll-free 1-888-24-LIBERTY.
Well, we've got Rich Tatum on the line. We've got just about 20, 25 precious minutes left. We've been talking about anonymity and superficiality and inconsequentiality as characteristics of the Internet. So there are actually people who go online and begin to get deeper in relationships with others over the Internet.
Rich Tatum: It happens very easily. I don't know if I've ever been a victim of it so much, but it's been a temptation because I have a journalistic nature. I love to interview people and pick their brains and find out what makes them tick. A chat room is the ideal environment for that. You find somebody and you wind up talking to them.
Dick Tennesen: Let's do a definition there. A chat room is where there are anywhere from 2 to 23 people usually and you are all linked together through an Internet provider.
Rich Tatum: All simultaneously able to see what each of the other people are typing at the same time.
Dick Tennesen: You can even see the names of the people that are in the chat room. You can even look up to see if they have a member profile, find out if they're married, and where they live. I haven't done that personally, but I've had friends who have told me about that.
Rich Tatum: Yeah. They fill out a profile. As an example of one time I was just lurking--what we call lurking is hanging around and reading what's happening in a chat room. Somebody paged me. They sent me a private message asking me if I'd be willing to talk. I said, "Sure. What do you want to talk about?" Before I knew it this person was divulging their darkest problems in their life. This person was in the hospital--allegedly in the hospital--had attempted to commit suicide the night before, their family was angry at them. This person was being treated for a hypothalamic condition that caused them to have extremely severe mood swings from manic to depressive and wanted prayer. So I typed out an online prayer. I prayed for that person. To this day I have no idea if that was a real need, if that person was lying to me or not.
There's an old joke: On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. You can be anything online.
Dick Tennesen: We do want to increase intimacy in communication. I can send email messages to a relative in Norway. I want to use that to increase the intimacy with that arm of my heritage.
Rich Tatum: This is where it's so deceptive because these things are like two-edged swords. The danger on the flip side becomes a positive when it's used in the right way and when it's used with wisdom. The Bible says in James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to him."
There is a way to use this tool with wisdom. There is a way to use all of these features to the glory of God to edify people and to advance the Kingdom. I do not want to be mistaken as saying "Get off line and avoid it because it's all evil." It's not. But I do want to raise the flag of caution when saying these things help you in relationships--because they do help you, like the telephone. They connect you with people across the country. But at the same time, what came with the telephone? Now we have 1-900 numbers, you know there's a danger there. So, we have to go into this with our eyes open and not embrace the entire thing without thinking about it unflinchingly.
Dick Tennesen: Why don't you... I'll just really drop a bomb. Why don't you tell the story that you told us at the workshop about Allison.
Rich Tatum: Oh my word. You know, I don't have that text with me. I won't read it to you. It's a long read.
Dick Tennesen: We can put it together here.
Rich Tatum: There was an individual who was researching his book on the Internet, and he was investigating some of the dangers and implications of the Internet. He didn't know what chat rooms were. He especially didn't know what this piece of technology called a multi-user dungeon (MUD) was or a multi-user object-oriented environment (MOO) was. Basically, what this is . . .if any of you are familiar with role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or some of these similar type games, there are places you can go online where you can be in a chat room with 20 to 30 or just 2 other people, and you can all act out a story line or interact with each in a particular environment.
Say you log on and the computer screen will flash these words at you. "You are in a shaded, woody lane. Ahead of you lies a path. To the right of you lies a fallen fountain. What do you do?" You type in "I walk down the path." Then it will tell you, "Somebody appears in front of you. Her name is Elaine. She says, 'Hi.' What do you do?" So you start chatting with somebody. It's like an environment that you get to interact in and it's all text.
Well, this author wanted to know more about this environment. He'd never been in it. He had a good friend at the Computer and Science Department at a university who was a Mediterranean fellow, very stable, very ancient old-world kind of mentality. His name was Avram. He found out that Avram had been online for several years and was very familiar with cyberspace. So he asked Avram if maybe he could give him a guided tour of these chat rooms, these MUDs, these virtual worlds. Avram said, "Sure. Why don't you come by the computer center tonight at 8 o'clock, and I'll log on and I'll show you."
So he shows up. Avram logs on. He watches him, and as Avram signs into the system he signs in as Allison. So, it turns out Avram was role-playing as a female in this environment. Nobody knew. Nobody who was interacting with him in this environment knew that Allison was actually a male person.
So Avram signs on and it turns out there are 20 people online at the same time and it tells you who they are. Avram, as Allison, types to this room full of people. "I have a friend here with me who is wanting to do research about this. Does anyone want to talk with him?" And one of the characters in this environment types up and says, "Sure. Let's go to my room." Avram typed in a few instructions, and they wound up in the virtual room of this other person. I forget her name, but let's call her Sarah.
So, Sarah and Allison are communicating now. Allison says, "Sarah, I'm going to turn the keyboard over to my friend. Why don't you talk with him." So this journalist sits down at the keyboard. It feels kind of weird because he doesn't want to give up the fact that Avram is really a male--that Allison is not a female--so he's having to be really careful not to refer to Avram as "he."
So he starts communicating with Sarah. He starts asking Sarah, "Well, how do you like this environment? Do you get to know people very well?" She says, "Oh, yeah. I come online every day. I have a special friend that I meet here every day and we share and we talk and we get to know each other better. I wouldn't miss it for the world." "Well, why? What's so special about this relationship? In fact, what was it like when you made the transition from knowing each other online to meeting face to face?" Sarah admits, "I never met this person face to face, my friend and I. We've only met online. We've been online for two years now, and we'll probably continue meeting in this virtual world until one of us dies or fails to sign on." She expected this to be a relationship that would continue for years.
As the journalist probed into the relationship, it turned out that Avram-as-Allison and Sarah were having a "lesbian" romantic relationship online. Now remember, Avram was a stable, married family man with old-world valules--very traditional, old-fashioned sort of mind set. He was very intelligent. He was a professor at a university! Out of curiosity one day he signed on to this system as a woman just "to see what it was like" to interact with other women and other men as a woman. He got himself involved in an intimate relationship with Sarah that turned into an exploration of lesbian fantasies online. Sarah admitted to the journalist that they had talked to each other into sexual ecstasy just via the Internet. This had actually been an affair, and it was a "lesbian" relationship--despite the fact that Avram was a male and we have no idea whether Sarah was a male or a female or a child as far as we know.
Well, Avram got really upset. He started to feel uncomfortable when the journalist asking questions, so he cut it off. The next day he admitted to the journalist that he had been having an affair with this woman, and he was very distraught over the entire thing. But as i read that story, it highlighted how pernicious and how tempting this kind of thing is. It's very easy to want to try to trick somebody and just kind of see if you can pull it off--you know. Just sign on and go into a chat room and pretend to be a woman and see how many people you can fool. Before you know it, at some basic emotional level you start buying into what you are doing.
This is almost a totally different subject, but this is one of the dangers of role-playing. When you invest enough of your own identity into a character that isn't real, eventually the character does become real to you, and you begin to resist letting go of that. That begins to shape you, what you're doing, and who you are. This is why Dungeons & Dragons is so dangerous to young adolescents who are getting involved in it because of the demonic and powerful problems that it brings into their lives because of the role-playing--pretending to be a witch or a warlord or an elf or druid. It cannot have that good of an effect on a person's character.
Dick Tennesen: Well, I think role-playing is a very good way to describe this because everybody is really role-playing in the sense that they want to have the best possible perception by the other person.
We're talking with Rich Tatum, who is a Webmaster. Rich we've got 10 or 12 minutes, and I want to turn some corners here and really end on a high note because there are some really good things about the Internet.
I think we can probably summarize how to avoid the pitfalls by, I'd say first of all, by avoiding the anonymity except where the anonymity as you mentioned with women and children is protection. I made the decision early on for my America Online profile. Look it up some time "RichTofCA". Anybody that looks at it is going to either be drawn to me because they see I'm a Christian or they're going to say, "Well, forget him. He's a Christian."
Then we need to avoid the superficiality. I don't know that we can because we do have the sound-bite mentality. But I think we Christians have to avoid the inconsequential nature when we speak to people online by treating them as real people and with compassion and in agape love. Not what that person can do for me, but what does God want me to do for this other person.
Rich Tatum: You're right. On my honeymoon, I picked up a newspaper--the Seattle Post Intelligencer. This was Tuesday morning, May 6, 1997. The top of the paper right above the fold here says, "Sexual predators ride the Internet and into homes across America." It talked about the need to protect children online. Here's my advice. If you want to use this right, the Internet, the World Wide Web, is an ideal medium for anyone who wants to be a self-learner. If you want to grow in knowledge and understanding, the Internet is the way to do it. I wouldn't necessarily protect your children from the Internet by itself. Let your children have access to it. But here are some rules I would set up in your household if you want to protect your children and if you want to keep yourself in protection. Do you want me to go into this a little bit?
Dick Tennesen: Sure.
Rich Tatum: Here's a suggestion that I'm reading off of a document from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. "My rules for online safety." Post this up near your computer.
Put your computer in a public, family place. Don't put it behind a closed door. If it's the computer that you've got Internet access on, put it out in the open where everybody can see what you're doing and everyone can hear what's going on with your computer. That will protect you a great deal.
Make a commitment. Understand the things you do online have a consequence. The things you do and see online not only impact the people you say things to, they not only impact your own spirituality, but they leave a trail. Believe it or not, if you have an Internet service provider and you are accessing pornographic Web pages or if you are pulling down nude pictures off of a discussion group, that service provider knows what you are doing. They may not be monitoring what you are doing, but it's very possible that somebody at that service provider business who is seeking the Lord and who may know that you are a Christian may stumble across a bit of information one day that reveals to them that you are not exercising integrity online. That may damage the cause of Christ. So be aware of the fact that what you do online has an impact on yourself, on your family, on the people that you are interacting with, and maybe even strangers that you may never see.
Dick Tennesen: Wow.
Rich Tatum: If you have children and you want to give them access to the Internet, protect your password. Let them sign on, let them sign on in a room where you can watch what they're doing, sit down beside them and help them do what they're doing, but do not give them the password. In fact, change your password once in a while so that they can only sign on with your help.
There is software that you can download and install on your system, which would generally take the edge off some of the most dangerous parts of the Internet. It won't protect your children perfectly, but it will help you. Some of these things are very easy to find. If you are on America Online, some of these tools are built into the system. You can ask your system administrator for help if you need to find some of those areas.
Above all, try to communicate with your family. If you don't understand at least a little bit of what your child is doing or what your spouse is doing online, then you are going to be taken by surprise whenever you do find out what's happening. So, sit down and ask what's happening. Ask them to share what they're doing with you. Ask them to share their experience and their exploration with you. That way you won't be surprised. If you're single, it makes it harder because you don't have that "safety net" of other people to help you be accountable. So what you need to do if you are really serious about maintaining your integrity online, you need to find somebody. I don't care if it's somebody you know online or somebody who has never seen a computer. But you need to find somebody and tell them that you struggle with this. Tell them that you want them to keep you honest and to ask you at any time what you've been doing online. You need to maintain the willpower to be honest.
I wouldn't look to a pastor to maintain this sort of accountability because you're going to want to please your pastor. You may be frightened by his authority. If you're a single person and you need someone to be accountable to, get a friend, maybe somebody who you know is also struggling with some of these issues and work together on this sort of thing. You've got to make a commitment. Probably the very first step, if you're signing on anonymously, is to get rid of the anonymous I.D. unless you're scared that someone is going to track you down. At least start being consistent with who you are and who Christ is in you.
Here's another thing that I learned when I was going online. If I did not treat my online relationships with the same amount of respect that I do my real world relationship, I found that I was cheapening them and demeaning them. What I've found to help me when I go online and when I compose email messages and when I respond to chat messages is I pray and I ask God, "Father, I want you to honor this time and help me be a light for you. Give me the words to bring light into this person's life." And make that commitment early on so that Christ shines through everything that you do whether it's an email or a chat room or an instant message or if you're designing Web pages or you just work with computers and you don't ever interact with anybody, pray that Christ can shine through what you do. That's got to be the foundation for everything.
Dick Tennesen: Yeah, I've got a couple of friends that are real evangelists. A minister that I know is 80 years old--He's 80 years young. In fact, his online address is "gb" for his initials and then "rev320" which stands for Revelation 3:20, "Behold I stand at the door and knock." The other day . . . I've known him for 27 years, so I know his heart and his integrity and his honesty and his humility. He loves to nurture and mentor younger ministers. I'm still younger than he is, but we've kept this tracking. I maintain a few years younger than him.
But he has several of us that he communicates with. The other day, last Wednesday, he sent us each an email message telling us about two that he led to the Lord the day before. That's not unusual. This other friend of mine in Southern California, she's got two online addresses. One she uses just for evangelism. It's "jesuluvsu." She'll get people that'll just write to her and say, "What does your name mean?" And she will begin to share. Now that we're all busy, we can't just sit there . . . I don't know anybody yet who has itinerated as a missionary to the cyberspace.
Rich Tatum: Yeah. We've got people asking to do that, though.
Dick Tennesen: I would imagine. In a lot of respects, it could be very prolific.
Rich Tatum: That is something if I could highlight very briefly. Being a missionary to cyberspace. Think about this. Cyberspace and all that it entails is, indeed, is its own culture. There is a distinct culture when you go online and the way that you handle yourself. There are rules that you can break without ever knowing that the rules exist by the things you do in an email message.
One of the things I want to tell you is when you go online, be aware of the fact that this is a new culture. There will be nothing in your experience to prepare you for online culture. You've got to be like a missionary. You've got to watch, you've got to listen and see what are people doing that are the norms for this culture. If we sent missionaries overseas without orienting them to the culture and helping them understand the language, they would get beaten up, and they would come back bloody. They would be so ineffective and ill-prepared that it would be a travesty.
Think about that when you are putting your children online. It would be far better for you to at least have an understanding of the culture before you send your children out there unaware.
Dick Tennesen: Amen. Well, we're rapidly running out of time. I would be extremely remiss if I didn't mention Radio Liberty's Web site on a program like this. It's http://www.radioliberty.com/. It's a great Web site especially for people who listen to Dr. Stan and believe in his ministry and want to find out more about some of the resources available through Radio Liberty.
Well, Rich Tatum, from Springfield, Missouri, we're going to have to talk again in a week or so. Just kind of pick up from where we left off even though it will be a different audience. God bless you and your work back there and continue to use you to help us stay on the track.
Rich Tatum: If any of your audience want to correspond with me and get an outline on some ideas on this sort of thing, you can send me email at "Rich (dot) Tatum".
Dick Tennesen: Well, thanks a million, Rich, and I will be sending you a tape of this program and being in touch just in a couple of days.
Rich Tatum: Excellent, Dick. I appreciate the opportunity. I've really enjoyed it.
Dick Tennesen: Thanks, again, for taking an hour out of your precious time. Say hello to your precious bride.
Rich Tatum: I will.
Dick Tennesen: God bless you now.