Sunday, May 15, 2005

Theology is the best training for online

If I had continued my studies for the priesthood, I would have looked like this by now. And still I am convinced that theology is the best training for online. Posted by Hello

My e-mail signature contains a lot of personal information. Just have a look and you will discover that one of my degrees sounds Divine. More cryptic for some people is the slogan: Theology is the best training for online.

As it is Whitsunday today, I can make a link between my study and my present life. From my eleventh till my twenty fifth year I studied to be a priest. I ended up in New Orleans, Sin City USA, where I studied theology at Notre Dame Seminary from 1966 till 1970. It is here where I got my BA and my Master of Divinity, which is a kind of working permit for a priest. In the end I did not present myself for ordination or as we say ambiguously in The Netherlands: I left the church before singing. And I did not stop my studies, because of a woman, as people usually like to think. I met my wife years and years later (two years to be precise). So I have a background in philosophy and theology.

Often I get the question, how I got into new media. Well there is a red thread in this story. During my study in New Orleans I had to work for my living. I had a scholarship which covered the basic needs of tuition and subsistence. But that was not enough to buy books and go to the movies (The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Easy rider). So I started to translate theology books from Dutch into English and I got even credits for it. When I left the seminary, I went back to The Netherlands and started as an editor for reference works, more precise for a general encyclopedia. I became the editor humanities and had to cover religion, theology, philosophy, ethics, superstition and other items. As it was a brand new project, new methods were introduced. The fountain pen and the typewriter were traded for a minicomputer, brand PDP of Digital, which was used for editorial task. This was very progressive in the publishing industry not only in Holland, but also in Europe. This was the moment when I caught the bug of new media and later online.

So in 1970 the editors received piles of paper output for correction. We never saw the machine. Yet we saw that it was handy for setting up a thesaurus in the style of The New York Times. So in this way we avoided bad links. But it became also clear to me that much of the knowledge of the world could be stored in those machines. In fact you could make a mental picture of a period, of a country or of a person. Of course the computer was also used for more traditional tasks such as the administration of authors’ fees and for typesetting. Eventually I got involved in managing the content of general encyclopedias for another publishing house. These days you would have the title content manger in your job description, but for a lack of a better word we called it text manager at that time.

So from the Book, the Holy Bible, I got into publishing and in fact in electronic publishing. And my study came in handy after all. In the contact with the programmers I could practice all my lessons of exegesis. I learned how to interpret the messages the programmers sent. They were usually cryptic and often meant that they did not know how to solve problems: it is technically impossible…., was a common expression.When in the eighties the PCs became en vogue, I learned fast that there were different groups of believers: MS-Dos/Windows adepts, Apple tifosi and later Open Source preachers. The division between these groups is not as wide and divisive as between religious groups, but computer people can be fanatic about their belief. What my belied is? I work with Windows, but believe that those followers of the Apple creed made the right choice.

When the Internet hype was on the rise, I thought that the end of the world would be near. The eschatological belief in the future and the green grass of the new economy was so unbelievably strong. Helped by the stock exchange many got seduced to run and leave this valley of tears as fast as they could. Most of them never made it to the eschatological green fields and are still in hell, paying off their debts.

But the best part came with the introduction of the mobile telephone. I practiced praying in church for a long time as a mode of wireless communication. You had to be silent and the communication went straight up to heaven without any need for masts. Yet, you never got a clearly spoken answer in return, in contrast to the lucky ladies at Lourdes (FR) and Fatima (PT). So when the wireless telephone came around, it gave all people a chance to communicate with each other anywhere, at anytime. Granted, you need masts, even on church steeples, but at least everyone gets an answer.As you can see the slogan “Theology is the best training for online” is not that bad, after all. It reflects part of my life.

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