Apocalyptic Aspects of the Digital Age

Werner Thiede

The churches are silent while the coming 5G mobile standard simultaneously elicits international enthusiasm and deep concern. Theology professor Werner Thiede, author of several books and brochures on technology and digital society, briefs us on the apocalyptic impositions that are coming to a head in our gigabit society.

Is the “digital tower of Babel” becoming more and more concrete? Currently, a new, faster, and more intensive mobile communications system is being developed in Europe, North America, and other continents. It’s known as 5G, because it’s the fifth generation of mobile communications. The industry promises great advantages for itself and for users worldwide: with 5G, the internet will be present almost everywhere in “real-time”—with extremely fast download speeds of up to 10,000 Mbps and latency of less than a millisecond. Thus, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, or autonomous cars can be realized, and so-called artificial intelligence can be supported. Many advertisements are currently promoting the upcoming 5G network, in order to get the population on board with it.

But the negative effects are concealed. Concerns include spying in a technocratically growing surveillance society, changes in ecology resulting from the increasing consumption of resources as a whole, but also the mental and physical health of many people.

In Silicon Valley, there is already a “church” called “Way of the Future,” which worships artificial intelligence as a deity. Its central nervous system will be the Internet, says its founder. All the sensors and smartphones in the world would form its sensory organs and the data centers in its brain, so that it could see and hear everything and be omnipresent at all times. But since this golden calf of the digital revolution is ultimately imperfect and transient, it amounts to mere idol worship. It’s part of an internet that has many dark sides, with cyber-bullying, big-data-grabbing, programming producing all sorts of addictions, cybercrime, hacker attacks, and the Dark Web.

As early as 2011, ZEIT journalist Götz Hamann emphasized that as far as networked society is concerned, “utopia and apocalypse are very close together.” In recent years, bestsellers announced the smart dictatorship and the end of democracy. Well-known professor of medicine Karl Hecht, from Berlin’s prestigious Charité Hospital, is currently warning that “the dictatorship of digitization is in the process of putting an end to mankind on our planet.”

This year, several American scientists have warned that wireless communication brings with it a higher risk of cancer than was previously widely accepted. Nevertheless, the goal is to “provide” almost 100% of the population with the controversial radiation. The coming 5G mobile phone service is also expected to be as comprehensive as possible. Thousands of satellites will likely be required to support 5G from orbit in 2019. An international “5G Appeal,” undersigned by scientists from all continents and presented to the UN, the WHO, and the EU, cautions against this and calls for 5G to be halted on Earth and in the sky, as this rollout threatens a planetary emergency.

Are we all approaching a digital progress trap of gigantic proportions? Or are these the exaggerated fears of some cultural pessimists and so-called enemies of progress? Would we be better off ignoring the “prophets of doom” and concentrating on the opportunities of digitization instead of the risks?

Catholic theologian Gregor Taxacher points out a paradox in his clever book Apokalypse ist jetzt! (“Apocalypse Is Now!”): Throughout almost all of church history and theology, churches thought and preached in apocalyptic tones. Yet today, even though the signs of the times are actually “end times” for our planet from a purely historical point of view, they show themselves to be mostly silent in this regard!

Instead, many brilliant authors are counted among the prophets of the digital apocalypse in our day. Of all the novels that warn against the digital apocalypse, just three are listed here by way of example. In her 2011 novel NEXT: Erinnerungen an eine Zukunft ohne uns (“NEXT: Memories of a Future Without Us), Miriam Meckel describes the “memories of one last human,” who asks too late, “Why did we allow our world to dissolve into the digital?” People weren’t paying attention when the break into the gigantic, overarching digital revolution occurred. If only they hadn’t been sleeping then, but listened to the warnings! In 2014, David Eggers’ later-filmed novel The Circle was published in North America and Europe. In a nutshell, his message is that the digital elite want to impose a utopia on us, which drives everyone out of their minds. The most recent digitization-critical novel comes from Frank Schätzing and is called Die Tyrannei des Schmetterlings (“The Tyranny of the Butterfly”), published in 2018. This solidly-researched thriller warns regarding the themes of artificial intelligence, bio-hacking, and the effects of an increasingly interconnected world. Despite the ethically “good” intentions of the creators of the AI, the plot does not look good…

Bible prophecy doesn’t see history approaching an improving, progressive culture, but its downfall. Should God wait until humanity digs its own grave through progress? The effects of human sin are increasing with today’s technological possibilities!

However, the Apocalypse also includes the New Testament’s positive outlook on a new heaven and a new earth. When digitization seeks to create a paradise on earth, it is as doomed to failure as all previous attempts of this kind. Christians shouldn’t be blinded by temptation, but should turn away from its pseudo-religious and unethical dimensions. Because these will inevitably lead to a real progress trap and make us subject to God’s judgment.

Midnight Call - 06/2019

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