Navigating the Digital Age: Technology, Theology and Spiritual Formation with Jonas Kurlberg
one of the ways that we have spoken about human uniqueness is in our rational capacities, our intellectual capacities. So what happens when the machine outsmarts us? Do we need to change then our ideas of what makes us unique? And I think probably yes. I'm not sure if it's such a good way to understand what it means to be human anyway, through rationality. But this is some of the church fathers did, right? So Augustine, for example.
the problem with that... is that, we all have different capacities in terms of our rationality. And so we can think about disability, And does that make them less human? Of course not. It doesn't. But anyway, it challenges our notion of what it means to be human in such ways, right? So we got to rethink what it means to be human.
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And now for today's interview. . Dr. Jonas Kuhlberg, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much. Great to be here. We really appreciate you being on the podcast today to help us process the state of the great commission reports findings on how the shifts of technology are shaping our new digital lives. To start us off, could you introduce yourself by just sharing a little about your background for our listeners who may not know you and what projects you're currently working on where you find yourself in the world.
And if, if there's anything you're doing, that's just, that is filling your passion levels. Why don't you share that with us as we kick off? I'm a Swede based in London I've lived about a third of my life in the UK, a third of my life in Sweden, and a third of my life elsewhere. So my parents were missionaries in Nepal, and I think I fulfill all the stereotypes you might have about missionary kids, you know, rootless and restless. But also see the opportunities that are around in the world. So in terms of my educational background is also quite mixed.
I studied theology in London. I did sociology in London as well. And then I did my PhD in British literature and culture in Norway. And it was during a postdoc in Edinburgh that I started thinking about issues around the internet and religion and faith. And that carried on, and that's been kind of my focus in my career as such.
So, currently I'm based at Spurgeon's College in London. I'm the Director of Postgraduate Studies there. But I'm also part of a centre called the Centre for Digital Theology. And so we've been doing research on these issues for well over a decade around faith around what happens when we use this technology for ministry missions and discipleship and so forth. But also thinking theologically about the wider trends within. Within the world and how it's been digitalized and in, you know, what kind of resources do we have in the Christian faith to think deeply about these issues? So currently one of the big projects I have is I'm doing a hand Oxford handbook on forward digital theology it consists of articles, 35 articles by well over 40 scholars from around the world.
And so it's a very broad project. I'm not sure if it's fun, but it's really important to do that kind of work. Apart from that, I chair the global Network for Digital Theology. And that is something I really enjoy.
And that is bringing together, again, providing a platform for deep theological thought on, on these issues. And again, it's very ecumenical project and it's also interdisciplinary. So it's kind of an academic focus.
And I love that. I love the interaction with people, scholars and theologians from different parts of the world and from different traditions. I also... Manage the MA in Digital Theology at Spurgeon's College. So I think we're unique in the world to offer that kind of educational opportunity. I love teaching.
I have a passion for teaching, especially when you feel that sense of connection with students and Rather than telling them what to think, you're kind of engaging with them and helping them think through the issues and drawing out their own ideas and experiences and bringing them and showing in different perspectives and how they can think about that. Wow, Jonas, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your background and about your passion. And it's for that very reason that we have you on the podcast today. And, you know, it's just, it's fascinating to reflect on how technology has changed the world.
So significantly, even as we think back over the past decade or so, not only has technology changed, but it's changed our lives in a substantial way which is why we. Are speaking about the State of the Great Commission reports findings, and I would love to, to chat to you about that, ask you to help us unpack that a little bit so you can almost imagine that we are students sitting in one of your lecture rooms as you are speaking about digital technology and theology. Could you take a moment and speak speak to the technological shifts noted in the reports? Which ones do you find the most noteworthy and could you speak into their importance for us today? There's a few things that are obvious. So the report maps kind of, mostly it's about digital adaptation, right? so for example, how quickly we've,, started using social media, from that report, I think it's, well, A, it's the level of adaptation. Now we're talking about roughly about 60 percent of the population that are considered to be internet users, which is astounding in a very short period of time and, but it's also. Not just how, how, how many people are online, but how much it is part of our life.
I think the report suggests about the average internet, and this is average internet user, the six, out of the 60 percent we spend about six and a half hours online every day. And so it's not just that we are using the technology, it's the extent to which we're using the technology, and the extent to which it's become part of a large portion of our life, and it's the speed of it as well. yeah it's fascinating to think about how many hours we are spending online. Considering that, what are the implications of that? Are there any new challenges that this time that we're spending online is facing us, the technological shifts that are present and how should we begin to approach our use of technology? , as we think about the amount of hours that we're spending online? Actually one challenge that comes as a researcher is because the shift is happening so fast, it's actually really, really difficult to verify what actually, how it is shifting culture, how it's shifting our notions of and areas of I guess ourselves, our identities, and I guess what it means to be human and so forth. we have a strong suspicion that it is, that it is somehow changing the dynamics, but you get quite, actually, if you dig into the research that's going on, some of it is just quite generalized, and making assumptions. Some of it is conflicting.
I mean, I guess with most research, but the part of the problem is that we it's happening so fast and it continues to speed up that it's actually difficult to map what's going on. But I guess there's a few kind of general challenges that we can talk about. One has to do, I think, with the massive wealth generation. That's happening through this technology and the massive wealth generation for the few I find that a little bit concerning because of the power dynamics that creates, right? So, yes, there's positive, you know, digital technologies seem to create wealth.
generation for society as large, but it's for a particular small elite that's particularly beneficial and that creates a lot of power in the hands of very, very few people. And from, I guess, a democratic point of view, that's, that's the problem, I think. I think there also, there are something that we might not talk about so much is the environmental impact. So even thing like the report mentions, uh, cryptocurrency and a high level of adaptation. Now that depends on a lot of data, which is incredibly, , reliant on energy, so there's a lot of energy just to, going into just maintaining cryptocurrency. And that's one thing.
With artificial intelligence, there are reports that suggest only in two years time, AI and the energy levels that requires, will generate about 5 percent of carbon emission globally, right? And that's just one little thing, right? We don't have all these gadgets that we use and dispend quite quickly, right? So we have all of that as well. So that's another thing. And then obviously the most apparent one when it comes to social media will be issues around polarization, fake news. echo chambers and all those things, you know, they've existed in our culture before, so they're not new.
I think that's important to point out, but there's something about, especially the algorithms of social media, that suggest that it furthers those kind of trends. And for me the problem with that is a problem of trust. And it erodes social trust between.
People between institutions and actually. From a political, socio political point of view, you know, trust is essential for any society to function. And then finally, just this one challenge is that it's a digital divide. So, we're talking about 60 percent of the population who now are considered to be internet users but that is still a huge proportion of population that are still not online and benefiting from that and in some ways are left behind, right? Now that percentage will go up. But the digital divide will manifest itself in some different way in the future.
And it's not just about whether you're online or not, it's also how much data you have access to and so forth, right? So, those kind of issues will cause inequalities and continue to cause inequalities moving forward. So those are the challenges, I think, on a societal level. AI obviously going to raise a whole new set of challenges. One of them, which I think is not so much talked about, is actually has to do with knowledge generation.
And, and what we come to think of as knowledge. at the moment, AI is basically using human knowledge, and using statistics to create texts. But you can imagine a future where increasingly AI is used to write these texts.
but they then become part of the data set that AI is training itself on. And so it raises questions about what is knowledge? How is knowledge generated? So, and I think those are kind of also interesting theological questions to think about. I'm sure people are aware of other challenges that AI raises around jobs, around, the possibility of disruption disrupting major infrastructure around the world. and again, it raises questions around what it means to be human.
Can you speak a little bit more into that? That thought of how AI is challenging what it means to be human. Or at least our perception of what it means to be human. So what we tend to do is we tend to anthropomorphize technology. At least some technology. And what I mean by that is that we...
We tend to make it human like, A lot of people are using voice recognition technology and it sounds like as though we're speaking to another human being. We then also then start treating it in certain ways. So we I don't know for sure, but my suspicion is that we, most of us will treat. A service like Amazon's Alexa if we use it. Differently to what we might treat, I don't know, a computer screen, right? Because Alexa speaks to us, we might say please. We might be less inclined to be abusive.
Whereas the screen, I'm quite happy to shout at that if I'm, you know, if it's not working properly or whatever, right? So we kind of anthropomorphizing this technology, which means that we start also measuring ourselves against it. We use words like intelligence, and then we start measuring ourselves against that, right? My concern is, there's actually not so much that, and this is, this is an idea that comes from I've taken from Robert Song, who's a theologian in Durham. My concern is not so much that the robots are becoming like us, but that That we become like the robots. So we start measuring our, rational capacities against that of AI, for example. and then we start, and which, which is kind of based on this idea of like efficiency, productivity, and all these kinds of things. And then we start seeing.
Each other, in light of that, we start comparing ourselves against that, against those benchmarks. It challenges our notion of what it means to be human, and one concrete way is that, in history at least, one of the ways that we have spoken about human uniqueness is in our rational capacities, our intellectual capacities. So what happens when the machine outsmarts us? Do we need to change then our ideas of what makes makes us unique? And I think probably yes. I'm not sure if it's such a good way to understand what it means to be human anyway, through rationality. But this is some of the church fathers did, right? So Augustine, for example.
The problem with that we all have different capacities in terms of our rationality. And so we can think about disability, you know, people with learning disabilities. And does that make them less human? Of course not. It doesn't. So we got to rethink what it means to be human. And maybe we need to even move away from notions of uniqueness, right? Which are really difficult to substantiate anyway.
There's one other theologian who talks about actually what makes us human is not our intellectual capacity, but our, almost our vulnerability, right? And in the face of the machine, it's our vulnerability. And part of that vulnerability is our capacity to love. Which makes us vulnerable and it's that which makes us human rather our capacity to think in very bright and smart ways.
Wow, Jonas thank you for unpacking that for us. I feel like that's a whole other podcast episode for us to, to dive into. You've spoken about a lot of challenges that we face as humanity, as we talk about the advancement of technology, you know, you've spoken about environmental impact, you've spoken about the wealth gap, you've spoken about questions of what it means to be human, but. I also know that you are a bit of an optimist when it comes to the technology and how it speaks into our life and ministry.
So I'd like to give you an opportunity just to speak into the opportunities for growth and potential that have arisen through technological advancements. I think this is something that we all can experience. One of the amazing opportunities that there is just connect with people that we might not connect with otherwise and create unlikely friendships. And so there, you know, there are people other parts of the world. Which I have, you know, the only way I know them is through a digitally mediated interaction. Eventually, I might meet them at some conference or some other place.
But I still feel like, when I do, I feel like I know them. You know, I genuinely know people that do that. And so it creates an amazing opportunity to connect in that way. I think, you know, everyday life as well. I love the fact that I can I can stay in touch with my wife through messaging app and just checking in and in those kind of things.
And I think that kind of creates a kind of ongoing conversations in our lives. And that will be the case also for for us as believers, right? I'm sure we'll talk a bit more about specific church opportunities and ministries, opportunities and discipleship later on, but it's the fact that we can stay in contact with maybe our prayer group or our group throughout the week in ways that we haven't before. So it's that kind of relational aspect that we need to celebrate and then we need to I guess make the most of to be crass. And even if we're going back to the report that we've been mentioning , if you look at there's one particular question about, you know, how do you use social media and the vast majority will say is, is staying in touch with friends and family.
And surely that's a positive thing. I think there are huge opportunities for learning, right? So, suddenly we have all this wealth of knowledge available to us instantly. So we've got kind of the micro learning aspects of it.
The light bulb off my car had gone the other day. What do I do? Well, I go and I look at a little two minute video on YouTube to see whether I can do it myself, which obviously was quite easy to figure out. So it's this kind of things, but also the kind of the resources for. for, you know, academics, for example, you know, in our research, the possibility of finding good, , academic resources for our research and for other people to access it as well. The whole movement within academia is towards what we call open access.
So this huge push to make sure that actually our, the research that we produce is freely available for free. And that democratizes learning in some amazing ways. It enables certain possibilities, to move people out of poverty and it releases funds for, to do other things that we think are important in life and so forth. I think most of us have also benefited from a more healthy work life balance with the possibility of working from home. I save.
You know, two hours a day just from staying at home in terms of travel time. Now, that is not all wasted time, but still I can be here in the morning when my kids go to school. I can say hi when they come back and I carry on working, right? I think that those are some of the, just on top of my head, are some of the positive things. Thank you.
I think you've really set you've given us a picture of the technological landscape and you've done a really good job unpacking the challenges and the opportunities for it, for us. But I'd like us to pivot to the heart of our digital lives and move into discussion of spiritual formation and discipleship. The fact that people are spending two, two hours and 20 minutes a day on social media.
As a global average is mind blowing as you start calculating and adding it up and you consider how much time people potentially spend at church or in their Bibles or in prayer, the contrast is significant. And I think the question I have as it comes to spiritual formation and discipleship is, has to do with this idea of being formed. It's not a question of whether we are being formed or not.
It's more a question of what is forming us and how is it forming us? And so I'd love to ask you in what ways does technology shape us? What are the effects of the digital realm on the way people are formed and make decisions and grow together as a community? And how specifically as Christians and as mission leaders and as church leaders, should we be thinking about these things? So yes, I, one of my hobby horses, quite frankly, is that we need to move away from a purely utilitarian view of technology. So the fact that tools that are, they're just tools and we can use those to a different purpose and different ends. But the fact is that the design of the technology suggests that we should be using them in a certain way.
So while we're not forced to do that, we're kind of, we're encouraged to do so. And as we do that, it has certain constraints and certain possibilities. So one, a good example would be we can all tweet, right? We can be on Twitter or X, or as its now called. . And Now we can, we can, we can tweet something that's really encouraging and, you know, try to bless and encourage people or we can be quite hateful and spiteful in that what we communicate, right? And that matters, on the other hand, you know, we are limited to 280 characters when we do that.
And that shapes our possibilities of how much we can communicate, right? And so we should be careful then thinking about what kind of conversations should we have in kind of different kind of spaces, right? So they open up questions about, how does different tools also shape us in different ways? So this is why it's also become so complex because, you know, we can't just say, do very broad strokes trends of the digital because it's actually so many different things as well. But, if we are to talk about discipleship and how it might shape discipleship, I think a general trend is what I would call towards networked discipleship. And my point here is simply that, you know, a hundred years ago, Most Christians, they would have stayed in their local town or village throughout their life with very little travel opportunities. And their essential, their spiritual formation would be in the local parish. Now, a lot of Christians today are still part of a local congregation, a local church, and we spend some time there. But actually, a lot of our spiritual nourishment, a lot of our spiritual engagement is elsewhere.
And that's not just the digital. It can be things like we go to a conference in the summer, right? We move a lot, so we will have had different church communities that we've been to. We might be involved with para church organizations such as Lausanne, and we encounter and meet Christians there, and we perform discipleship there. But the digital has massively accelerated this process. So, , we now listen to podcasts. We listen to sermons from all over the world.
And we get a lot of our information and our spiritual nourishment through the digital. We form Whatsapp groups with people who are not part of our local congregation but still act as some kind of spiritual prayer groups or Bible study groups and so forth. So you get what I'm saying here. What's happening is, one big trend is that actually our discipleship no longer happens purely in the local congregation.
Now, we could lament that, we can suspect that that panders to a kind of a consumeristic attitude towards discipleship. But on the other hand, it also allows the individuals to explore spirituality to grow in different ways. And even if we look to the Gospels, we see that Jesus encounters people in different ways. So there is an extent to which, God speaks to us in different ways and God meets us in different ways because of our personal makeup. But that does raise all the questions about kind of more consumeristic and individualist, individualized forms of spirituality. And so we can, we, I think the digital culture is part of a trend towards that kind of individualization of, spirituality.
So that then opens up questions about church leadership and what should church leadership look like in this particular context? My take would be, we can fight against this and there are ways that we should be doing that we should remind we should remind the members of our congregation that, our spirituality has to be more about what we just consume and our individual choices. We need to be conscious of that as disciple. But on the other hand, I think church leaders should say, well, great. We have this wealth of resources available to us today.
Let's help our members to use those well. So to flip it around and say, okay, let's see this as a resource rather than a threat, right? But then digital literacy becomes a really important part of discipleship in this kind of context to help our members, our brothers and sisters to be wise about or discerning about what kind of resources they engage with. Wow, that was rich. Jonas, I really appreciate the insights you brought to, to that conversation. I would like us to shift a little bit and speak about how theology and technology and culture intersect.
In a previous episode, I interviewed Dr. Poobalan, who mentioned that Christians tend to see, as you mentioned, technology as a tool, but we need to flesh out a theological framework for theology. What would, Theological framework for technology look like for us as Christians? How do we even begin to frame that and begin that conversation of discussion? When I think of theology, I think of systematics and I think of putting God in a box and unpacking the scriptures but how do we develop a theological framework for technology? So technology, it is tools that extend human capacity, so I'm not going to deny that. But technology is also culture. And what I mean by that is, maybe I'll need to unpack that a little bit more. Well, A, it's a product of culture, so it's a product of human imagination.
But as we use it, it gives rise to new practices and new cultures. And so, we need to think about... Technology as a kind of a condition that we're in. So we can talk about a digital condition, right? So we can then start thinking about, theologians have throughout ages been thinking about contextual theology, right? So, how does the context that we're in shape the way we do theology? So that happens on two levels that it happens anyway, it always happens. It's unavoidable. Our culture shapes the way we come to faith.
We can't avoid that. The very fact that we use language, which by the way is technology in my mind as well, because it extends human capacity. We are always dependent on culture in order to even start articulating ideas about God. But then there's a kind of a missiological aspect of that.
And that is thinking contextual theology is counting something that we do because we want to be able to explain what faith looks like in our particular context. And so we need to address the particular issues of our age, right? So we need to think about theologically what it means to be living in a culture that's infused with digital technology. We've spent so much time. One way of doing that is to think about, well, is there a...
Is there a theology of technology? Well, the Bible doesn't explicitly do that, I don't think partly because the way we think about technology is often today is limited to digital technology or new gadgets, but actually technology has always been part and parcel of human Existence you know, just look around you and, we are in technological environments all the time. I'm sitting in a room, it's technology, right? A building is technology. I'm sitting in front of a desk on a chair, I've got clothes, all these things are technology.
So if we start looking in the Bible, technology is everywhere, and it plays different roles if we start looking at it. So what would be some examples? Well, I guess an ark becomes a tool of salvation. a Tower, It's a symbol of human hubris and pride and oppression, right? a tool of execution kills the savior of the world, so forth, right? So technology is essential to actually the biblical stories, but there's no explicit theologizing about it. Now I think we can go back to the doctrine of creation, and we see that if we think of tool, technology is tools that extend human capacity.
Then language is also technology. And so we see in the creation narrative that God gives Adam the task of naming Adam, naming the animals. , so even tools then we can say even language and tools then becomes part of God's, given to humans to have dominion over creation. So tools become part of that, but we can also think of As tool users and tool creationists, there's something about the Imago Dei, something around there about the Imago Dei.
we are created in the image of God who creates things, right? So there is a kind of a basic theology of technology that seems to be, in my mind, a kind of a positive invitation to Now obviously we then need to think about human sin and so forth and obviously that is, that's a massive part of what we're thinking. But what we do at the Center for Digital Theology is also thinking about, okay, what kind of cultural environment are we in? And what does that do for our theologizing and our theology. So we do bring things like, uh, you know, our doctrine of creation into conversation with digital culture. And these are some of the, well, I've just mentioned some of the conversations that we have.
But we also talk about eschatology. What. What's the purpose? What's the end goal of things? What are we heading towards? And how does this shape our actions now, especially in relation to other narratives in our society, other stories about the purposes and ends and goals things like transhumanism, post humanism, which sees a positive use of technology to turn humans into something, something beyond, something extra that's, that furthers not just our external capacities, but our internal capacities as well. How does that differ from a Christian eschatology? Or we've already mentioned, theological anthropology, you know, how does technology change the way We view ourselves, and how does it shape our theologizing around what it means to be created in the Imago Dei? That is just on top of my head, just a few examples of the kind of things that we need to be thinking about. A big question as well, it's obviously ecclesiology.
What does it mean to be church in this particular context? And how does that, how do we theologize about that? Yeah, and I definitely think that our experience through COVID forced us to reconsider how technology shapes our theology. As churches, we were forced to go online and the question was, what does it mean to be online? to be the church? What does it mean to take communion? Can we do that online or do we have to be together? And so it's those kinds of questions that you've just unpacked for us that stimulate our thinking to think, wow, okay, technology is shaping not just our lives, not just our formation, but also forcing us to reframe. All of these different theological frameworks that we have which is not always a bad thing. It's actually a good thing to reconsider what the word of God means for us today in light of what we're experiencing. But I would love, as we begin to wrap up this interview, I would like to ask you how should individuals or Christian communities Think about theology or react to theology.
What should their posture be as new advancements in technology begin to sweep over us? should we be overly optimistic? Should we be pessimistic? Should we be cautious? How, what do you believe our posture should be as, as we experience this new wave that we're heading into? So there is, there's a theologian called Angela Gorrell and she talks about digital media as providing glorious opportunities and profound brokenness. But she, what she does is she says to church, we need to invite informed conversation. And I think that's where we need to go. We need to.
We need to have informed conversations about this, and that's really what I try to do. I try to challenge people who come with certain presuppositions either way to think deeply about what is this doing to us, right? Or how is it working? What are the theological implications of it? But I also, I guess, a question that as a theologian you want to ask is, you know, where is God in all of this? I've co edited a book on, on Missio Dei in the Digital Age. And essentially that is what Missio Dei does. It asks, where is God involved in the world? And how can we, how can we participate in God's redemptive work wherever it can be found? And so I guess that's the posture I would like to invite us to. And I think also we need to move away from a kind of either or model, right? If digital is also culture, then we have to accept the fact that this is where we're at, right? God has placed us in this particular time and moment.
And so how do we, yeah, how do we live well within this particular context, , rather than thinking just about simplistic opportunities and pitfalls? It's how do we, how do we embody Christ in the here and now? that's a kind of a process of negotiation, and to some extent we'll probably answer that, those kind of questions slightly differently. Jonas, thank you so much for your time. Our time together, it's been so rich in new ways to think about technology and how it intersects with culture and theology and our lives. I'm sure that there are going to be people who are listening to this or watching this, asking the question, where can they find you? Where can they find out more about the work that you're doing? How can they get involved? If they resonate with the topics what next steps could you give them? Where can our audience follow your work and where could they potentially get in touch with you? So I haven't got, I must confess, I haven't got a massive social media presence. I'm actually not that interested in that.
But, uh, you can see what I have. The research I put out on ResearchGate so if you just Google my name, you'll find some stuff out there that I've done. There's a few articles I've done for Lausanne as well.
So there are Lausanne locational papers that you can have a look at, where I'm particularly reflecting with a few friends on digital church. If you're interested, I'd love to have you come and learn together with us about these issues at Spurgeon's College and the programs that we're offering there on digital theology. And I guess the other thing is that you can check us out, the Global Network for Digital Theology as well. Which is a slightly more academic conversation, I must confess, but we are on YouTube and we have websites and we have conferences and seminars.
So lots of resources there as well. Thank you, Jonas. I truly appreciate your time. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to ask you questions about the state of the Great Commission Report's shifts on technology.
I trust that your work at Spurgeons College and your networks and and your writing endeavours will be flourishing and I hope to connect with you soon on what the interaction between technology and our lives in the future. Thank you for your time. Thank you.
Thanks for the invitation. Dr. Newman, welcome back the podcast. Thank you, Jason. Love being here with you.
So today we are exploring the shifts in technology and asking the question, what is digital life? And so to kick us off, I would like to ask you a question about your own engagement with technology. In your view, what has been the most pivotal technological innovation in the past decade and how has it your life and your work? There are really a lot of innovations that one could consider pivotal. However, I believe that the, probably the most impactful innovation has actually been the application of a very ancient idea or ancient innovation the algorithm. So we know that algorithm as a concept has been around for thousands and thousands of years.
However, in the last decade, we've seen a new application of this old concept in the form of recommendation algorithms. So really from the shows we watch to the products we buy to the things we see and read, these recommendation algorithms have quietly but yet very dramatically shaped our lives in the digital world. So in some ways, now we actually lack real choice and live in this generated recommendation chamber that really is shaping our thoughts, opinions, actions, and preferences. So this has really certainly been helpful, this is helpful a lot actually, since my computer and my phone now really know me more and know me well, almost better than even my assistant. It can recommend things to me even before my brain gets to it.
I appreciate that, but I'm also very conscious of the downsides of these recommendation algorithms. So I think this is probably the most pivotal thing that has shaped my life and others lives around me. Well, Dr. Newman, I was not expecting algorithms to be your answer. I thought you're going to say iPhone or chatGTP or something.
So thank you for that. So we're looking at the shifts in technology. Could you unpack for us just the major themes and topics that you explored as you researched shifts in technology? Yeah, a digital life is so wide and vast, right? As we talked to you, so we can just have podcast after podcast sessions on this. But in the report we covered some of the major topics such as digital communities, how that, how the digital world has shaped and formed and remade communities.
We've looked at the effect of virtual work and how that's affected how we engage with each other, how the Great Commission has engaged in its own work. And then the future of decentralization and Web3 has been a topic for us in the report. it's actually mind blowing to think about how much technology has changed and how much our own lives has changed as we interacted with technology. would like for you just to kick us off by speaking into digital connectivity. There's been a lot of changes over the last couple of years.
Could you share with our listeners what the global landscape of digital connectivity looks like today? So the world has really seen this dramatic change since about 1990. In 1990, there was a negligible percentage of the world that was connected with the internet, believe it or not. But you fast forward to today, and now approximately 60 percent of the globe is connected to the internet.
A few short decades there to see this happen. From the start, North America really led in the percentage of its population online. And now has approximately 90 percent of its population regularly engaging with the internet. South Asia, Sub Saharan Africa have been slightly slower, if you speak globally, integrating with the internet, with only about 30 percent of Sub Saharan Africa regularly engaging with the internet. However, when you consider the actual number of people using the internet, there's been a meteoric rise actually since 2000 in Asia. So with now approximately two and a half billion people on the internet.
They live in Asia, and it vastly outnumbers even the second region of Europe that only has 0. 6 billion people on it. But really, just about any way you look at it, the rise of the digital world has been exponential. So for example, in 2010, there was only one zettabyte of worldwide data. Fast forward 13 years, only 13 years.
You see this exponential curve and now there's really approximately 150 zettabytes of data. It's just every way you look at it has been an exponential rise. So there's been some of these regional disparities, a few I pointed out but the majority of the globe now lives in a digital world for sure. And with this new connection into this digital world, our lives have changed. Part of your data was exploring how many hours people spend online.
And you our tell our audience what, how many hours people spend online on average? so really anyone living in this digital world can really get a sense of this just in their own experience. The phone has now become an extension of ourselves. And it's readily at hand, right? These working patterns have changed. Communities are now different.
Communication styles are new and ever changing. And that means because it's affecting so much of our life, we're spending so much more time on it in our lives. So, one way we can track this difference in our world is the amount of time a person spends looking at the internet in some way. So currently, the worldwide average is 6 hours and 37 minutes of a day is spent on the internet.
Now, this ranges with a high end of 9 hours and 38 minutes in South Africa. Yeah, you guys are in South Africa, the most highest users. So, this rise of internet we simply now really spent a lot of time looking at screens. Most of our time engaging with this digital world.
And how would you contrast life before this widespread adoption of the internet with the digitally immersed lifestyle many are experiencing today? Yeah, I think we can maybe look to a picture that a lot of us have experienced and maybe for some of us Millennials or Gen Z'ers like we've only ever experienced this but I'm sure many of us have been on or waiting for public transportation And at that point we simply pull out our phones and we simply look at the phone, everybody around us is looking at the phones. There's very little eye contact or communication in that sense . We're actively communicating, just not with the people around us.
So, there's many ways that the adoption of the internet has changed our world. But that's just maybe one small picture that we've all experienced. It's just vastly different. We're communicating with people around the globe while sitting and waiting for a bus locally and ignoring the person sitting next to me. So the Internet or the web as we call it here, really has evolved through a couple different phases. Web one, as it's known, was a read only version where individuals consumed the information from web pages.
But then as the internet evolved to what we call Web 2, people were allowed to not only consume but create their own content and share it. So the web became a place not only to consume but also to create. And this is the current stage we're in. All of creation is done, however, we have to recognize that this creation is done within spaces that are already designed and owned by tech companies.
And those tech companies own the data and they own the content and they can get advertising monies for this. But really, at its highest level, Web 2 is a centralized model that's really centralized on particular tech companies and the spaces they give us to consume and create, but it's all owned through the centralized models. Now, Web 3 dramatically shifts that. Web 3 moves from a centralized model to a decentralized model. So in Web 3, users can consume and create like they did in Web 2.
But they can also own and influence networks utilizing their own data. So this shifts ownership and power from centralized companies to the decentralized individual. Now the infrastructure is still being built on this, but it's coming very quickly. It will dramatically shift even how we understand and operate online.
Could you give us an example of what a Web3 interaction might look like? maybe I'll point to a few examples that many people are familiar with. Uh, Just the notion of blockchain or Bitcoin this is not necessarily owned by a centralized bank or run by a central bank. I actually own the particular currency and it's got data tags and when I transfer that to somebody else, the data tag transfers the ownership to the other person. And it's a global tech enabled network of currency not run by a particular institution. There are many models and that's maybe the most.
It's a commonly known model, but a one that we can cast our mind around. And how has the evolution towards Web3 impacted our interactions with technology and the way that we live? Yeah, shifting the ownership from centralized to decentralized will have a lot of effects, as you can imagine. Power structure shift, influence shifts, attention economy and ad space shifts, so on and so on. But I think it's also really important to recognize this is part of maybe a larger accelerated philosophical shift in our cultures towards decentralization.
And understanding this decentralization as a mode of life. And we have less resilience then and need for centralized organizations in our life. Perhaps a little less trust in institutions, which we'll talk about in a future podcast. And just this notion of ownership in and of itself and decentralized from shared institutions. It's going to have a big philosophical effect, not only in how we transfer money or how we transfer data, but generally how we understand the world. the shifts that was most interesting to me as I read this section of the report was the section on social media usage.
Now social media has become a central part of modern life. but I think for many of us, our idea of what social media means could be different so could you break down for us what defines social media, and could you then give us some stats on the usage of social media across the world? Social media is what I might consider the highlight of Web 2. This is where users can consume and create content for others. Social media is unique in the sense that it allows users to connect with other people in some formal way. So Facebook is currently the largest social media platform, followed by YouTube, and then WhatsApp, followed by Instagram, and then WeChat. We're all familiar with these particular instances, but it's consuming and creating and sharing and connecting with others.
Currently about 58 percent of the globe are regular social media users, 58 percent of the globe. Of course, this really varies by region with 84 percent of Europeans regularly on social media, 71 percent of Latin Americans, 72 percent of East Asians, 62 percent of Oceania, all the way down to, as we noticed in the digital connectivity. Central Africa having the least digital connectivity, so down to about 7 percent in Middle Africa. But globally, there's about 4. 6 billion social media users, right? With the majority of these users actually living in Asia. So approximately 60 percent of the global social media users live in Asia.
So interestingly, today, if you're on the internet, you are actually on social media. We see that 93 percent of everybody on the internet are using social media. So internet and social media become almost the same thing. And granted, we love this stuff.
That's why we're doing, that's why we do it so much. We love it so much that we actually spend about two hours and 27 minutes that day on social media. I think when we think about social media, we might have a different idea of what certain people are doing on those platforms, but in, in the report, you gave a detailed list of how people are utilizing social media on a regular basis. Could you unpack some of that data for us? Because I think it's fascinating.
Interesting. Global surveys have really helped us understand what is meant by social media use and why do people use it? What's the motivation? So when the respondents here were presented with several categories, people responded that they primarily use social media to keep in touch with family and friends. Now, this is arguably one of the main goals of social media from the start. It's actually in the name, social media.
So, it's wonderful to see that people are using it in that way. But it's interesting though, the second highest category of social media use is what they call filling spare time. Alright, this is the person on the bus. Stop waiting for the bus. I have five minutes while I wait. So, what am I going to do? I'm going to just scroll through social media.
So, for many around the globe, a few minutes of downtime now equates to scrolling through social media posts. bit farther down the list, finally rounding out the top five, social media is used for reading news stories, for finding content, or seeing what's being talked about. So it starts with connecting, it then fills space, and then ultimately we're looking for content. thank you for breaking that down for us. As we begin to draw this conversation to a close, I'd like to shift once again to unpacking what this means for the evangelical church.
What probing questions should we as evangelicals be asking as we think about technology, think about our engagement with technology and how our lives have become so integrated with technology? I think it's important. To start here by recognizing that the term technology is derived from the root techne or tool I think that helps us understand this a bit because tools can be used for good or ill So I could take a hammer and I could build an amazing house with it Or I could take a hammer and I could destroy something and completely smash it. The same kind of goes with technology So at its core, Christians must continually evaluate and question whether this tool is being utilized for good or ill in their life, good or ill in their church, good or ill in their walk with the Lord. Does asking questions like this, scrolling through social media two hours a day enliven their faith? Build the community, allow them to witness effectively, and really begin to ask, what are the broader effects of technology and social media on our work, community, and communication? Although it seems that technology has been around for awhile, in the grand scope of history and innovation, if you zoom out, we're just at the start of this huge innovation. So we have to keep asking these questions.
could you discuss specific challenges and opportunities that technology trends present us, particularly as we consider as faith based believers? so let me maybe return to the idea that I started with about recommendation algorithms. Digitally derived recommendations are shaping what we see, think, and communicate on a regular basis. So this is incredibly powerful. But as evangelicals who are dedicated to making disciples of Christ, we must recognize that recommendation algorithms are a major shaping force, even in our own faith.
So leaders of churches have to honestly ask whether discipleship programs or is it social media recommendations that are actually shaping the congregants faith. So ministering in a digital age takes an intentional and careful attention to do it well, and there's a lot of great opportunities and challenges here. And further, as we seek to make Christ's name known, we have to really ask whether we're aware of our digital identities and the digital borders that exist. And all too often, our evangelical digital efforts due to these recommendation algorithms are only being seen by the proverbial church choir. Just ask how we could contextualize a gospel is a key question.
And we do this when we go to different locations. We ask how can we contextualize a gospel in a different location with words and culture and approach in order that it can be seen by that geographic location. But we have to begin to do that in the digital sphere as well. We have to ask how can we contextualize a gospel so it's seen by different people of different digital cultures. That are perhaps in a different recommendation tunnel, complex things but things we need to deal with in a very serious way.
Thanks for sharing that, Dr. Nieman. As we wrap up, do you have any final thoughts or reflections that you would like to share with us on the subject of technology and how it integrates with our digital lives? I would leave by encouraging the church and everybody involved in the Great Commission effort to give great attention to our digital age, right? How we interact with the digital world and witness to people in a digital age is really the defining act of our times. So we need to proceed with care, but we also have to proceed with great vigor.
Dr. Nieman. Truly appreciate your time. Thank you for the efforts that you put together to put this report together.