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"It's the wired decade"

Christian journalist stands in the vanguard of cyberculture

San Francisco--For many Christian parents, the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Communications Decency Act raises the specter of technology run amok. To them, the Internet seems like nothing more than a pooling of human depravity, an electronic apple promising the ultimate knowledge of evil.

To parents who think along those lines, Wired magazine is almost as reviled as the Internet itself. As the foremost authority on the cyberculture, Wired defends the freedom of the 'Net in a tone that is hip, irreverent, almost anarchical. In fact, the magazine was one of the original plaintiffs in the suit to prevent enforcement of the CDA.

It may be surprising, therefore, to learn that Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired and peripatetic prophet of the electronic future, is himself a professing Christian. To Mr. Kelly, the Internet and its attendant technologies offer more promise than threat.

"It's the wired decade," he declares enthusiastically. "It's the Internet, connecting, globalism, a little bit of millennial fever, a quickening of pace. The zeitgeist of the '90s is all about the web: the webbing of the planet, the global teenager, wiring up the youth culture."

This is a good thing? Any parent who's struggled through a child's teen years is bound to wonder why anyone would look forward to an entire culture of raging hormones and identity crises.

But if Mr. Kelly's view of the future is unusual, so is his own past. A college dropout from Westfield, N.J., he spent most of his 20s wandering through Burma, Sri Lanka, and other Asian countries. His strongest tie with the West was a New Testament given to him by a friend before his departure. He read it avidly, comparing its teachings against those of the many religions he came in contact with.

After being kicked out of Iran during the revolution, Mr. Kelly found his way to Israel just in time for Easter. It was on Easter morning in Jerusalem that he recognized Jesus as God and Lord of his life. "I was about 30 years old," he recalls. "I didn't come to Christ out of any kind of crisis. I was very happy, I was very content, which actually made it harder to change. I came as a mature, intellectually curious, and, still to this day, very un-acculturated person."

He clearly revels in his role as Christian outsider, insisting, for instance, that "dirty words" are mere cultural constructions and that he wants his own children to question authority. But Mr. Kelly has thought a lot about issues of technology and the future, and he shared some of those thoughts with WORLD.

WORLD: You seem very excited about the potential for technology such as the Internet to advance the progress of the human race. But when you connect a bunch of fallen creatures, aren't you just increasing their capacity for evil?

Kelly: The new technology means that there's a lot more power involved. So if the entity is disposed to evil there will be the potential for greater evil. It ups the ante throughout. But I say that is unadulterated good. It's like thinking-the more you think the better. The kinds of thoughts you think are up to you.

WORLD: You sometimes sound almost reverent when you talk about technology. Is there a chance that technology will become the religion of the next century, that people will look to it for transcendence or salvation?

Kelly: I don't see it happening. I don't see people being sucked in that way. Technology isn't like drugs that way-there's no doubt that people had a religious experience on LSD. But I don't detect that same level of life-changing, soul-shifting experience happening online or happening with technology.

WORLD: You've written that the new technology will make the world an increasingly decentralized place, as anyone with a computer can find out things and do things that once only the government knew or could do. Is that kind of empowerment always a good thing?

Kelly: We haven't yet explored the limits of this decentralization. What we're beginning to see is the declining importance of the nation-state. Obviously Washington still has some effect; there's lots of power there. But any step toward realizing that Washington doesn't have as much power as it thinks it has is the way to go. Corporations have much more influence over our lives than does government. The era of mass industry, mass education, mass conscription, etc., is over.

WORLD: You seem overwhelmingly optimistic about technology. Is there no dark side? Nothing to be afraid of?

Kelly: I think technology is like the life we see outside in nature. We have a very curious response to nature. We think of it as very benign and harmless and beautiful. But 100 years ago anybody would have told you that nature is something you have to battle. I think the proper approach is a balance between controlling nature and cooperating with it. It's the same with technology: Sometimes it has its own agenda and we have to work with that. Other times we have to say, "No, we have to control this."

WORLD: What do you think is the greatest threat that technology will pose to Christendom in the near future?

Kelly: The threat has little to do with digital technology and everything to do with genetics. The most severe debate will be over the definition of what it is to be human: issues of personality, whether it's genetically determined, where our own personality and being are derived from. All these debates are going to be horrendous. It will make abortion pale in comparison.

Bob Jones

Bob Jones

Bob is a former WORLD reporter.