PROVO — While God has provided the technological tools that permeate the world, individuals are the moral agents that decide how to use it, and those choices will only grow as the number of tools expands.

Ronald Schwendiman, who coordinates all church activities on the Internet worldwide for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told Education Week participants at Brigham Young University today that recent LDS prophets not only foretold the information age, but warned that it must be harnessed for good.

Former church President Spencer W. Kimball saw the coming technology deluge in 1974, Schwendiman said, describing future "discoveries latent with such potent power, either for the blessing or the destruction of human beings as to make men's responsibility in controlling them the most gigantic ever placed in human hands. ... This age is fraught with limitless perils, as well as untold possibilities."

More information has become available in the past 20 years than in the previous 150, he said. The challenge for Latter-day Saints is to determine "which information is true and right. We have a flood of information but no idea of its validity or truthfulness. Anyone can publish or write anything.

"We're making information choices by Google now. That's scary because you don't know how Google selects their number one listing," during an Internet search. "I know, and you should be scared. There's a reason that's the number one selection, and most people will stop at the first page of resources, believing it must be the best."

Selectivity in both usage and the choice of information is vital, he said, noting that since the year 2000, top LDS leaders at every semi-annual general conference of the church have warned about the need to prioritize how time is used in conjunction with technology.

While some have wondered whether to shun technology altogether, Schwendiman said former church President Brigham Young disavowed that approach in the 19th century, when some Latter-day Saints were concerned about the coming of the telegraph and the railroad to Utah, fearing persecutions would follow.

At that time, Young said, "Every discovery in science and art that is really true and useful to mankind, has been given by direct revelation from God. ... We should take advantage of all these great discoveries ... and give to our children the benefit of every brand of useful knowledge, to prepare them to step forward and efficiently do their part in the great work."

President Kimball, in an address in 1972, said, "I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse," and spoke of devices that would enable church members to connect with each other immediately. "That sounds like cell phones and portable computers," Schwendiman said.

Cell phones have become the fastest growing product to ever hit the world economy, he said, noting China has more cell phones than the entire population of the United States. In five years, "everything including laptops and desk top computers will be replaced by a handheld device. The processing power of your phone will equal the processing power of your laptop.

Additional portability for Internet connection and e-mail provides great benefits but also poses great challenges. Latter-day Saints "don't have monopoly on righteousness or revelation. We have to choose whether technology will be to our benefit or to our destruction. Technology is a tool, not a toy."


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