This is Part 1 in a series about the good use of technology. We are examining how the Christian should think about technology today, with practical tips on each topic. Check out the overview explaining why this is a good idea and a list of the topics discussed so far.
If you are 35 or older, you probably remember the iconic sound a dial-up modem made when it connected to the internet. I remember it well. That sound was my gateway to the world for years; at least when I was able to pay my Mom for the monthly charges. It occupied the only phone line we had, so voice calls were impossible, meaning every time I connected to the internet, I could be kicked off when someone needed to make a call or I had been hogging the line for too long (whatever that meant). When our phone provider offered a monthly “flat rate” at the blazing speed of 1 Mbps, while at the same time keeping the phone line unoccupied, for $25 a month, I was blown away. I persuaded my Mom to do it, we did, I paid for it, and it was awesome: A constant connection to the rest of the world.
Today, having an always-on, fast connection to the internet is thought by many
to be a fundamental human right. It is certainly more ubiquitous than in my
younger days. Before we dive into details, let’s briefly look at how the
internet works. The internet is just a network of computers, like houses
connected by roads. Like a house, every computer has a unique address. When you
visit my blog at
appliedtheology.net (hey thanks!), that name gets translated
into a unique address that your computer knows how to contact. It sends
a request that gets routed from computer to computer until it finally arrives
at the one that serves up my blog, which then sends a reply all the way back to
yours. It’s like having a conversation by letter, but much, much faster.
Invisible to you, dozens of protocols manage name-to-address translations,
routing, and other services to make it all work.
Those are the nitty gritty details. When we zoom out, we see that the internet is a marketplace of content. Social media, streaming video, news, or other information are offered up by various people and companies, all vying for our attention. Some content is good, like my blog (I may be biased) or your church website, providing useful information. Other content is not good, and unfortunately you do not have to look hard to find it. Just like you would not go into some stores because their products are of questionable quality or morality, you would not want to visit some websites on the internet. Unfortunately, visiting a website is much easier, intentional or not, than visiting a store, so more protection is necessary.
The first way to protect yourself is to restrict physical access to your computers. This is important if you have kids, but can also be beneficial if you do not. Put computers in public places in your house and do not allow mobile devices in bedrooms or bathrooms. We have a common area for our computer and an open space to charge devices. Intentionally looking at inappropriate content with this setup is unlikely: no one wants to watch porn in the living room with the family around.
We also require passwords for all our devices. The kids know theirs for the mobile devices they most often use, which is okay because their devices are locked down more with parental controls. They do not know the passwords to my devices or the common area computer, so they have to ask us for access. It provides just a bit more awareness on our part about what they are doing on devices that are not as locked down.
The second way to protect your family is to restrict the connection to the internet itself. This will get a bit more technical, but stay with me, you will understand this! Ranked from easiest to hardest, here is what you can do:
Enable parental controls on your devices. These differ depending on the vendor, but you can often limit usage to certain apps, certain times, and certain content. Parental controls are not just for kids, either. If you struggle with pornography or excessive social media use, having that content locked behind a password, even if you know that password, is one extra step to get to it. That one step may be enough to dissuade you from watching things you shouldn’t.1
Devices like Disney Circle offer a more centralized way to manage your access to the internet. Tim Challies recommends it, and if I were not such a network snob, I would use it as well (my solution2 is better and more technical, but fits my skill set and interests). Circle is reasonably priced but requires a subscription for premium features, which I would consider essential, like setting time limits or bed times. Just filtering is free, though. I recommend this solution if you can afford the subscription or if filtering is all you need.
Finally, you can block websites on the name level. This works just like Circle’s filtering under the hood, but does not require a separate device. I mentioned the translation from domain name to address above; services like OpenDNS categorize these domains and allow you to block access to certain categories. It requires a bit more setup to make sure it stays synced with your internet address through a feature called “Dynamic DNS”. Your router may support it out of the box already. There are still ways around it (which can also be blocked), but it is a good start. I used it for many years. This may be the kind of thing you ask your tech-savvy friend to set up for you, but customizing categories afterwards is done through a simple website.
Just like you would not just walk into an adult video store, or let your kids walk into one, the same applies for the internet. I have offered you reasons for why we should be mindful about how to access the internet at home, and ideas on how to protect yourself and your family. Do not take this responsibility lightly. Let me know if you have any question, especially if you are a member of Desert Springs Church. I am available to help.
Depending on how addicted you are, more drastic measures can be employed, like Covenant Eyes or other accountability software. But these are out of scope for this article. ↩︎
I use a small Protectli computer to host Untangle, a subscription based router, firewall, and filter. The upfront cost is similar to a router and the subscription reasonable. For my Wifi I use Unifi APs, but the Protectli device has optional Wifi antennas for an all-in-one solution. ↩︎