Monday, February 23, 2009

The Unintended Results of Cultural Progress

This morning I read the news that Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, the company that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and has filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to restructure its $390 million debt load. From the report:

The financial burden from an advertising downturn, rising costs for newsprint, and the migration of readers to the Internet caused Philadelphia Newspapers to fall out of compliance with its loan agreements last year. The same conditions have devastated the broadcast industry.

It is not clear whether any jobs will be lost during this process, as operations are reported to be sound and profitable. But surely there are many other situations which have led and are leading to job loss. This situation, and others like it, is a great sadness, and not what anyone foresaw as being an almost inevitable result of the internet age that we live in.

Reading this story reminded me of something I just read in Andy Crouch's Culture Making. Crouch writes that one of the difficulties of creating cultural products that serve others is that often the cultural product that is created has negative consequences that the creators of the product never imagined.

He cites the internet as a primary example. The internet is, by all estimations, an amazing product of culture that has greatly increased the horizons of possibility for millions of people. But people did not foresee many of the negative effects of such technological advance: the ease with which our children can be polluted and abused by online pornography, the decimation of the 20th century music industry and the vast loss of jobs that has created, or the increasing irrelevance of the newspaper, as people get their news quicker and cheaper online. Surely this is what led to the Philadelphia Newspaper LLC's announcement of bankruptcy.

All this increases my longing for the cosmic redemption of all things, which Jesus and the writers of Scripture have promised is yet to come. I am pretty sure that we will, in some way, still be culture makers in our final state of glory. And how sweet will that day be when our cultural creativity will produce one of the unintended, harmful results that often plague the best cultural advancements in this fallen world. In that day, every cultural good really will be good.

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