Why do I keep all this stuff?


Christianity Online Jan/Feb 2000According to Jeff Campbell, “In a sense, clutter is the end result of procrastination—especially if your problem is not so much that you have too much stuff, but rather that the stuff you have is disorganized.” (Clutter Control: Putting Your Home on a Diet, [New York, NY, USA: Dell Books, 1992), 46.)

But my inner pack rat objects: “disorganized” is a relative term. I have it all packed away in various containers. These containers are stacked in a relatively neat manner in my garage. That doesn’t mean I necessarily know what’s in them, or how to find something I might be looking for, or whether I actually need even one-tenth of the stuff I’ve stored. But, hey, at least I’ve got it…whatever it is…somewhere.

But it occurs to me that there is a finite amount of space in my garage. It also dawns on me that there is a finite amount of time in my life. This second point brings up the question of why I am sitting here typing this blog post, but more to my original point: if I keep accumulating old magazines, journals, tracts, and what-not at the rate I have been, eventually there will not be enough space left in my garage or time left in my life to sort through it all and decide what’s worth keeping, and my legacy to future generations will be either one of the largest bonfires or one of the most flammable garage sale in recorded history.

So why do I keep it all? Well, at one time I thought I would need it…eventually. Take, for example, the January/February 2000 edition of the apparently short-lived publication by Christianity Today titled Christianity Online. I pulled one of my magazine files out of my garage and it was the first item to greet me—more than seven years old! Why did I keep it?

“Cyber Sects,” by Michael HermanAs I started flipping through its pages it soon became apparent: I kept it for an article titled, “Cyber Sects,” by Michael Herman (pages 20-22). For many years I have had an interest in apologetics ministries, and here was an article devoted to the new presence that many of them were finding on the Web. But, still: why not simply bookmark the relevant web sites and toss the magazine?

The answer is that the technology of the Web was so new, and my experience with it so inconsistent, that the older print technology seemed more reliable. I actually trusted it to keep track of online information more than I trusted computer-based means.

At the time the World Wide Web, which was about nine years old, had been free to the public for a little more than six years, and many web sites had already come and gone. I had also bookmarked many sites only to have some sort of computer glitch or crash erase them all. After fourteen years of experience with computers by that time, paper still seemed to be the best back up. I did not yet know about the Internet Archive, which had been recording the transitory content of the Web since 1996. Even if I had, there was no way to know that I would still be able to access archive.org years later to find the same kind of information that was located in this article.

Of course, technically speaking, there still isn’t any way of knowing that. While it seems adequately funded for the long term, there is no guarantee the Internet Archive will not disappear tomorrow for any given reason. Even so, after several years’ experience with it, I’ve come to take it for granted. It’s a wonderful thing.

Fact or Fiction?

Meanwhile, it’s fascinating to peer back at the state of the web via this old magazine from my garage. In a sidebar to the main article titled “Fact or Fiction?” we are presented with a list of eleven “Web sites [that] can help you discern truth from lies.” Amazingly, all but one of these is still online in its essential form seven years after the list was published. One of the sites, the Apologia Report, now has a different web address, but it’s run by the same people. And ironically, the domain of the “Online Guide to the Major Cults” (holyscriptures.com) appears to have been taken over by someone who has displayed cultic tendencies. Since it changed hands it has featured links to Arnold Murray‘s Shepherd’s Chapel web site, as well as to other aberrant groups. (The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) summarizes the Shepherd’s Chapel teachings on one of it’s web pages.)

While some web sites have remained relatively stable over the past seven years, it’s interesting to see evidence of how much things have changed from within this article. Michael Herman wrote:

How easy is it to find alternative groups online? We entered a few keywords into a search engine and got the following results:

“God”—1,041,284

“Religion”—881,250

“Jesus”—751,094

“Angels”—430,836

“Christ”—697,018

[Ibid., 21.]

I don’t know what search engine he was using, but I thought it would be interesting to use Google to see how many hits I would get for each of these words today. I came up with the following:

  • “God:” 346,000,000
  • “Religion:” 247,000,000
  • “Jesus:” 143,000,000
  • “Angels:” 83,600,000
  • “Christ:” 87,800,000

Google has obviously taken to rounding off the totals in its database. Assuming that the data collected by the search engine that Herman used was on a par with what Google would have reported at that time, the increase in the number of web pages with references to “God” (from 1 million to 346 million over seven years) represents an average annual increase of nearly 265 percent. The number of pages with references to “religion” has increased at an average annual rate of more that 255 percent. “Jesus?” Nearly 240 percent. “Angels:” slightly more than 240 percent. “Christ:” nearly 224 percent.

To put the results for “God” in a different way: it would appear that from the beginning of 2000 until today, on average nearly two new web pages referring to “God” were uploaded every three seconds.

I also find it interesting to note what has become of Christianity Online. As far as I know, it no longer exists as a print publication, but it does still exist as a web site—or perhaps I should say, it exists once again as a web site. Judging by the history presented in the Internet Archive, the Christianity Online web site continued to serve as an extension of the magazine at least through August 2000. By October 2000, the Internet Archive seems to indicate that the print publication ceased to exist, and the URL was being redirected to Christianity Today‘s main site. Apparently CT began to resurrect Christianity Online in January 2005 as a premium internet access service. By mid-February of that year it began to closely resemble what it is today: a web-filtering service with both dial-up and broadband access.

Which brings me back to one of the primary differences between 2000 and 2007 in terms of the World Wide Web: seven years ago, despite approximately a half-decade of experience with the medium, none of us knew where it was going, how reliable it would be, what services would fly, what services would fail, and precisely how it was going to fit into the information economy. Many of us did assume that the Web had a virtually unlimited potential, however, which perhaps blinded us to the imminent bursting of the dot-com bubble the same year that this issue of Christianity Online, which I am now consigning to my household recycle bin, came out.

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