Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dig This

Technology can be a most amazingly wonderful thing. I was listening to a radio program the other day and a man on the show mentioned how there was once a time where missionaries would have to spend months and months to prepare to take the gospel to a dangerously remote location to reach maybe less than 50 people. Contrast that with our times and the use of the internet, and how that gospel message can reach millions of people in merely minutes, in their own language at that. That really is quite remarkable when you consider it. Of course it cannot ever replace the face the face relationships formed with new converts but the very idea that millions of people can read what you have to say before you wake up tomorrow, is just incredible.

At the same time, as we all know, this technology can be a most invasive and twisted thing. It doesn't take much to pull up the stats on how many online porn sites there are, and how many homes and families are torn apart by it. I was reluctant to even type that, because the mere mention of it on this blog will drive a lot of um... seekers of such, right to this blog. I'll see a spike in the stats, just because I typed that. Ugh.

Last week in the news a story broke about a most horrendous crime. Law enforcement had a picture of the suspect but they didn't have a name. In hopes of identifying the suspect they released his picture to the media and it was immediately broadcast around the globe via the internet. On one of the news sites I read daily, I saw the picture and my blood ran cold. The first picture they had (they've since released many more) looked to me like someone I know, and know very well. My heart said "NO!" but my eyes were saying yes, it does look very much like the person you know. It was a rather disgusting feeling, so I began to research the case immediately to see if there was a way I could rule out the person I thought I was seeing. Thankfully, the more I researched the case, the more I was certain I was wrong and that this was not the person I first thought it was. Since then more pictures and much more background info has been released and I do know beyond all doubt that the suspect in this case is a complete stranger to me. I was sure glad to learn that.

Several times however during my research, it struck me as nothing short of astounding, just how easy it is to gather up information on people, online. It's not as if this is new information to me, it's always been fairly easy to do, if you knew how. While it used to take a bit more "net saavy" to do it, anymore it's so simple a kid could pull up info you'd be stunned to even know was publicly available. What makes it even more bizarre, is that some of the sites that market themselves as "accurate and reliable" aren't all that accurate or reliable, and list all sorts of false information (it's easy to prove that out when you run the names of people you know very well, and see the false information for yourself). I'm sure that doesn't stop people from spending the money (usually between 10 bucks and 200 depending on how much dirt you want) to get these so-called accurate and reliable reports on people.

In a way it's very interesting, but at the same time it's almost creepishly voyueristic. There is a current open criminal case that I'm aware of that is being discussed online in a format for doing that sort of thing, and the amount of information being exchanged is almost overwhelming. The folks discussing the case know so much background information on the suspect, his family, friends, former employers, hobbies, etc., and they become so quickly familiar with names, dates, places and events, that they'd make top-notch private detectives. The part that is so stunning is that much of the information gathered, is information that private citizens willingly put online, themselves. Pictures of themselves in shall we say, private type of poses, pictures of themselves smoking pot, guzzling the booze, at the beach, standing next to their cars, and all kinds of other scenarios. Then there's the blog entries - where they go, who they go with, feelings or thoughts they have about this person on that person. More and more personal information revealed. It doesn't stop there, either. On some "community" type web pages, you can click on the "friends" and see who they are, and how they fit into the picture, and who the mutual friends are and where they are, what they drive, etc., so forth and so on.

Realistically speaking, if you wanted to, it would likely take you less than an hour to put together a complete background profile on someone, complete with employer, former employer(s), address, prior addresses, current and former spouse(s)/boyfriend(s)/girlfriend(s), properties owned, bankruptcies filed, criminal backgrounds, kids names and ages, business licenses, friends and associates and the same pertitant info on them as well. You could do this with someone you know, or a complete stranger, and you'd know more about them than you ever imagined possible.

So I got to thinking... this likely scares the willies out of some folks (no, not that I was thinking, but that this info gathering is possible). I know bloggers that don't use their real names (and you do too, and you likely don't even know that they're not using a real name!) for this very reason. I know bloggers that wont post pictures or ever discuss anything of a personal nature, also for this very reason. I've also known bloggers who bailed out of blogging because someone was a wacko and actually started digging around in this way, to get to know them better. That would be enough to creep just about anyone out.

Those who have known me for a while know that I once had an online stalker. Minus the details it was a long time ago and was resolved thanks to diligent law enforcement. It didn't stop me from being online anymore than an obscene phone caller would cause me to disconnect my phone. It did cause me to be more outspoken though, and it did motivate me to learn how to use these tools myself, just to see how easy it was to snoop around. From time to time I do a background on myself to see who I am, lol. Funny thing is, ALL of the so-called "most reliable" tools list some false information about me. I'm not sure why its there, but it is and I'm not going to go out of my way to point it out. Its there for a reason I suppose, and that suits me just fine.

As I thought about this, I thought about what might happen if one day, God forbid, my own family is the subject of an open criminal case and curious arm-chair web detectives start looking around. Make no mistake, these folks are smart, and they're thorough, and from what I can tell they do what they do partly because they can, and because justice for the victim is something they're incredibly passionate about. Many of the sites where folks gather and discuss these things are very close knit communities where everything they find, they turn over to law enforcement. No tip is unimportant, and the smallest thing may be what it turns out to be, that breaks a case wide open. In that aspect, it's a great thing Joe Q. Public is doing.

But what would they find if they started digging around about me, or my family, or my close friends? You know, they'd find a lot of doctrine. They'd find that I wrote a book about faeries and another one about the Scriptures being central to your walk. They'd find pot roast & cookie recipes, jokes about homeschooler moms, and tons of messages about the gospel. They'd find out that I'm not afraid to say what I think and that I strongly disagree with a lot of the modern evangelical trends & Christian celebs that people are ga-ga over. They'd check out common associates, and they'd find just about the same stuff there too! They'd find links to great churches & sermons, women's Bible studies, great books about practical Christian living, links to Christian t-shirts and radio shows, and a few posts here and there about how houseflies drive me nuts. In other words, the vast majority of what they'd find is Biblical Christianity, and that makes me feel really good.

I've joked a few times that some day Kev is going to finally snap and hold a small village hostage, with a dull toothbrush. His demands for their safe release will be a huge book list fulfilled and delivered to him with an extra large dbl cream, from Tim Hortons and a bag of lime and green chile chips. I'm not sure why I think it's Kev that will do the snapping, for all I know it could be me, and my weapon of choice would no doubt be a flyswatter, heavily reinforced with duct tape. (yes, I really have one of those). But if for some wacky reason, some day someone has a reason to start really digging around, they're going to find a whole lot of "this is the grace of God, this is the merciful God we serve, and this is the way to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ".

I'm really good with that.