Saturday, February 17, 2018

Quentin J. Schultze (May/June 2003)

Like many of the people who’ve sat for Door interviews over the years, Dr. Quentin J. Schultze is the author of books with really impressive titles and enough colons to keep an army of proctologists in malpractice suits for years:  Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media (Baker, 2000), Winning Your Kids Back from the Media (InterVarsity, 1994), Redeeming Television: How TV Changes Christians—How Christians Can Change TV (InterVarsity, 1992), Popular Religion (Baker, 1991), and Television: Manna from Hollywood? (Baker, 1986).

He’s co-authored a few (The Best Family Videos: For the Discriminating Viewer; Dancing in the Dark: Youth, Popular Culture and the Electronic Media) and even edited-contributed to one (American Evangelicals and the Mass Media).  Even more impressive, his books have actually been translated into Korean and Indonesian.  More impressive yet, his 1995 video (now CD-ROM) presentation, Internet for Christians, has even been translated into Spanish, German, Japanese, and Finnish.  Heck, we didn’t even know there were any Christians in Finland!

Unlike most of the people who’ve sat for The Door Interview, Dr. Schultze (the “e” is silent) is a professor of Communications at Calvin College in Grand. Rapids, Mich.—you know, the Christian college that recently hosted a concert by the Indigo Girls so that its students could see for themselves that it wasn’t only Christian musicians who made sappy music.  Anyway, when the kind folks at Baker Book House sent us a copy of his latest book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart, we decided to have a look-see at what it was that could inspire him to use so much initial alliteration.  Turns out we didn’t have to look any further than the subtitle: “Living Virtuously in the Information Age.”  Always in need of info on how to live virtuously, we dispatched Arsenio Orteza, one of our most virtue-challenged mastheaders, to the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, where the good professor was participating in various activities at the National Convention of the National Communication Association.

Over lunch, Dr. Schultze elaborated on a variety of topics related but not limited to computers in general and the Internet in particular—especially their increasing role in our ever-changing world.  In addition to proving himself knowledgable about an astonishingly broad range of topics, he also displayed an energy level that helps account for his ability to fulfill the not-always-complementary roles of teacher, writer, speaker, husband, and father.  Tall, trim, bespectacled, neatly bearded, dapperly gray, and bow-tied, he came off every inch the professor.  He even offered to pick up the lunch tab, but our man in the Big Easy lied and told him we’d cover it.

Naturally, Dr. Schultze has a website, and it’s pretty nifty and informative as those things go.  The URL is, and by all means feel free to tell him you first heard about it here.  Just don’t get him started on the extent to which he was misquoted in the following interview.  With his knowledge of computer technology, he just might concoct a virus and embed it in his response, thus making cyber-meat of your hard drive.

THE DOOR MAGAZINE:  What made you want to study communication?
QUENTIN J. SCHULTZE:  Well, I started out in engineering, but I became increasingly interested in communication problems.

DOOR:  Why?
SCHULTZE:  It was amazing to me that two or more people could somehow share ideas, have a life in common, and love one another.  I mean, animals can’t do it.  So I switched from engineering to communication.

DOOR:  Were you a religious man prior to this time?
SCHULTZE:  I grew up in a nominally Roman Catholic family, but my folks stopped going to church when they got divorced, and by the time I was an undergraduate, I was what I called “a-religious,” kind of an agnostic.  It was my interest in communication that eventually led to my interest in communicating with God.

DOOR:  What was the connection?
SCHULTZE:  I reasoned that if we could communicate with each other, and if there is a God, then maybe we could communicate with God as well.  And if in fact God made us, our communication ability might somehow reflect something about the way God is.

DOOR:  What happened then?
SCHULTZE:  I became a Christian, and very much a catholic Christian in the sense of believing that there is a catholic—or Christian—tradition that includes all the different Christian groups all the way back, which I consider myself part of.  So even though I am a Calvinist, I’m also very much a Christian in the catholic-with-a-small-c sense.

DOOR:  We consider ourselves a magazine-in-the-small-m sense.

DOOR:  So, this Internet thang.  The outlook’s rosy, right?
SCHULTZE:  One of the biggest businesses now in information technology is the backup-saving-of-information business.  One of my former students works in it and tells me that every credit card transaction, every medical record at ever hospital, every government record—all of this has to get backed up somewhere, and there are just a few major companies that have set up places underground or in mountains with all kinds of backup machinery where all this stuff gets saved.

DOOR:  Sounds apocalyptic.
SCHULTZE:  He imagines a kind of nightmare scenario that something’s going to happen, and we’re going to lose a huge amount of this.  It’s like Fahrenheit 451, where they go out and intentionally burn the books—but this may be an accident—and it’s gone!  Frankly, I believe that cyber-terrorism is going to be one of the next great war fronts.

DOOR: Why?
SCHULTZE:  Because it’s going to allow you to do a tremendous amount of damage without having to be in geographic proximity.  From a distance you’ll be able to go in and throw off a schedule for a power plant or something and cause the plant to burn up.

DOOR:  With so many storage media these days—zip disks, CD-Roms—why is backing up files such a challenge?
SCHULTZE:  Any medium that exists is destroyable.  A fire or some other weather-related thing will take care of your CDs.  The whole idea now is to have multiple locations, usually with large hard drives, and you hope that something will prohibit all locations from going down.  But there’s a problem with that kind of thinking.

DOOR:  Which is?
SCHULTZE:  Usually these locations are somehow connected through networks.  So then you have the probability of somebody being able to get into those networks and to go electronically to those locations and cause problems.

DOOR:  Isn’t the Internet itself maintained by only a handful of servers?
SCHULTZE:  Yeah, it’s a small number.

DOOR:  And didn’t several of them recently stop working for an hour?
SCHULTZE:  Yeah, for an hour three or four of them were knocked out, and they don’t know who was responsible.  Everything I read by people who are willing to be honest says that our systems are generally very insecure because we’re trying to link everything to everything else.  The Internet is what produced the biggest amount of insecurity in the systems because once one network is connected to another network, people can start to move through them, and the way that you get your security back is to isolate and create networks that are not connected to other networks, which in a sense defeats the purpose.

DOOR:  Were you yourself in on the first wave of personal computers?
SCHULTZE:  I was in on the second wave.  I wasn’t in on the first wave in the late seventies because the computers were too expensive, and I was a poor academician.  I also thought that the expense alone would keep computers from ever becoming something big.  It wasn’t until the early eighties that I realized these data-processing systems were going to become communication systems.  As someone with a doctorate in communications, I realized I had to start studying, writing about, and critiquing these things, because now what was at stake was not just data processing but the very symbolic fabric of our culture.

DOOR:  If you’d lived at an earlier time, do you think you would’ve written books questioning the dangers of the printing press, say, or Edison’s communication-oriented inventions?
SCHULTZE:  Yes.  Both my historical training and my Calvinist instincts tell me that every advancement in human-communication technology will also diminish the quality of human communication and cause unexpected problems.  If you go back and look at the printing press or at a telegraph, you’ll find that there were parallel problems.

DOOR:  What’s the main difference this time around?
SCHULTZE:  The difference today is that the public rhetoric is so overwhelmingly optimistic.  The ads for the new products and services and the guru columns and the public speeches by the techno gurus all talk about progress.  They rarely talk about regrets, which I think, since we live in a fallen world, deserves equal time.

DOOR:  Would you describe the history of communication technology as one step forward, two steps back?
SCHULTZE:  In the past, the time that it’s taken to develop and distribute new communication technology has provided adequate time for reflection, criticism, and some reconsideration of how to employ the technology.  But now, with digital technology, we’ve reached a pace of innovation where the negative effects are just as robust and widespread as the positive ones, and we have less of a grasp of the negative effects than people generally had with previous technologies.  In 1994, for example, the average consumer knew nothing about the World Wide Web, and now we’ve got about seventy percent of Americans on it.  That adoption rate is spectacular from a marketing standpoint, but from the standpoint of understanding what this all means, we’re lost in the cosmos, to paraphrase Walker Percy.

DOOR:  In your book you express concern that the technological revolution will inevitably drive those who can afford the technology and those who can’t farther and farther apart.  With technology continuously getting cheaper, won’t this divide eventually close?
SCHULTZE:  The idea that newer technologies are necessarily going to be cheaper may not be true.  

DOOR:  Great.
SCHULTZE:  We’re now recognizing the increased costs of updating and upgrading every few years, and the rate at which these technologies become obsolete.  During the late ‘90s, we had a free ride.  There was a lot of money coming in to subsidize these technologies on the basis of dot-coms that would supposedly produce profits.  Most of them didn’t, so the real costs of technologies are just starting to become apparent.  Actually, I see a growing gap between the info-rich and the info-poor, which, incidentally, may be a good thing.

DOOR:  Why?
SCHULTZE:  It may be that to be information-rich in our world is to be wisdom-poor.  So we may be deluding ourselves by assuming that we’re a moor progressive society or that we are a more virtuous people simply because we have access to a lot of information.

DOOR:  American evangelicals were among the quickest to capitalize on television and radio.  Is there something inherent in their mindset that renders them uniquely susceptible to equating virtue with progress?
SCHULTZE:  Because of the emphasis in evangelicalism on the proclamation of the Gospel, new technologies tend to attract these kinds of believers, who think that the technology is the answer, that the right technique will lead you to the result that you want—the salvation of souls or whatever it happens to be.  And that’s a very American way of thinking, too.  So, in a sense, evangelical optimism about technology has greatly shaped American optimism about technology.  In fact, American evangelicals have been behind the development of every new and major communication technology in the United States.  In the 1830s, for example, the Bible-and-tract societies took mass printing and distribution to a new level.  A similar thing happened both in the early years of radio and the early years of satellite TV, with the CBN network and the PTL network, and now it’s TBN and all.

DOOR:  But aren’t evangelicals more the catch-up types nowadays?  By the time Billy Graham started making motion pictures, for instance, Hollywood had already left them in the dust.
SCHULTZE:  The movies were a special case.  The movie houses themselves—being dark, dreary, smoke-infested, and located in ethnic neighborhoods that weren’t very WASP-ish—were seen as evil places.  That slowed down evangelical development in film, though, most evangelicals pounced on the Internet right away and created much more of a religious presence online than any other Christian or non-Christian religious group.

DOOR:  We couldn’t help noticing, by the way, the disproportionate number of quotations in your book from Václav Havel.  Were you aware of him before his emergence on the international stage?
SCHULTZE:  I ran across Václav Havel some time back, I think through his plays, some of which are wonderful testaments to how real communication evaporates in a totalitarian society.

DOOR:  How does real communication evaporate in a totalitarian society?
SCHULTZE:  When we think of a totalitarian society, we think of top-down, hierarchical, control-oriented communication.  And, when you read his plays, you realize he recognized that the communication coming down from on top was laughable and absurd, and that the people were becoming increasingly disingenuous in the whole society as a result.  Then I read his letters to his wife—Letters to Olga—which he wrote in his years in prison, and it occurred to me that it is one of the greatest statements of democratic political philosophy in the 20th century.  So I began reading all of his speeches and everything else, and following his growing political career.  I think he’s a prophetic voice in the contemporary world.

DOOR:  Any other prophetic voices or trends you’d like to give a shout-out to?
SCHULTZE:  During the last ten years, there’s a bunch of books coming out about the importance of the Trinity in our understanding of the Christian faith, and now that theology is starting to influence Christians who write about communication.

DOOR:  How?
SCHULTZE:  That to get a sense of the model of communication, we have to get a sense of the Trinity and what that’s like.  One of the really fine books on that is Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three, and the Many.

DOOR:  We haven’t read that one.  What does it say?
SCHULTZE:  That whenever either diversity or unity in communication becomes too predominant, then you lose communication.  So in the information age I look around and say, “We’ve created our own Babelonian mess, where hardly anybody can communicate with anybody else anymore.  Even though we have common language, we have so many individual vernaculars, versions of reality and truth, and so many different individual experiences that there’s no thread.  So we don’t know what—or how—to share anymore.

DOOR:  Do you think the proliferation of Bible translations is an example of what you’re describing?
SCHULTZE:  Yes.  The Internet makes possible a world where everybody can be their own God, create their own text, their own canon, their own interpretation.  In the seventies we would’ve said, “Roll your own religion.”  So you have all these people creating their own religions online.  Incredible!  And that relates to all the Bible versions, to all the different study versions for all the different markets.  But it also relates to something Rich Mouw once said to me: “Protestants have replaced one pope with many popes.”  The Protestant notion of the priesthood of all believers is becoming the notion of the papacy of all believers because you’ve got your own website and you can publish.

DOOR:  Is there a silver lining to this dark cloud?
SCHULTZE:  I think so.  An interesting thing to me is to see a movement back toward historical interest in Christian liturgy among Protestants, including Evangelicals, who are looking back at the history of Christian liturgy and incorporating elements from the history of the church into “contemporary” church services.

DOOR:  What does this movement have to do with the Internet?
SCHULTZE:  What it has to do with it is that we can use the Internet to find out a lot about the history of liturgy and-or the history of particular saints or whatever if you have the inclination.  Rather than just using the Internet as an extension of your own ego, you can find out plenty about the past and actually learn something.  I think what we’re seeing now in something like the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, which a colleague of mine at Calvin, Harry Plantinga, does.  He’s taking all of the no-longer-copyrighted Christian classics, and he’s putting them all online and making them searchable.  It’s tremendous to have access to this stuff.  So I’m not anti-technology.  I just want to say that the Christian tradition has always said that we have to focus not just on what we can do as people but also on the kinds of people that we are.

DOOR:  You credit American Evangelicals with being the driving force behind our communication technologies.  In your book you mention that pornographers have also been quick to capitalize on the media.
SCHULTZE:  With video in particular.  Pornography really created the demand for the consumer video player.  That’s been well documented.  So, yes, pornography has always been there.  In the case of the Internet, I would say that the quest for God and the quest for sex are probably the two biggest quests that drove the development of the World Wide Web.  There was a time when if you went in the search engines and put in the word “God,” you would get more links than if you put in the word “sex.”  It’s not so now.

DOOR:  So we’ve noticed—er, heard.
SCHULTZE:  There’s a human drive for intimacy that exists in both the realm of God-seeking and sex-seeking, and the Internet became a way for people anonymously to go after both of those.  And there’s still a tremendous amount of God-seeking., for instance, is the highest-trafficked religious website in the world.  It runs over ten million hits a day.

DOOR:  Enough of the silver linings.  Any more dark clouds?
SCHULTZE:  The problem of authorship in a digital age is massive.

DOOR:  In what way?
SCHULTZE:  Anybody can make digital copies of practically anything, change the author, change parts of the original copy.  We’re going to find that we have major problems on our hands in discerning truth, whether it’s a trial and the records that are presented or a book written by someone.  Did they really write the entire book?  Plagiarism of all kinds has become extremely easy.

DOOR:  So has the downloading of copyrighted music files from the Internet.

DOOR:  Do your kids download MP3s?
SCHULTZE:  For a long time, my son downloaded music free and believed, according to copyright—just as if you and I had a book and went to make one copy on a Xerox machine—that it was legal.  I took the contrary position.

DOOR:  Why?
SCHULTZE:  Because we’re taking real serious money away from the people who own the original by making it easy for anybody to quickly make a copy online, with almost no cost or effort involved.  To go to a library and to copy a chapter takes time driving there, it takes time putting money into the thing and everything else.  There are reasons that would drive down costs.  The same thing with making an audio-cassette copy of something.  There are costs built into this, that make it seem to me to be reasonable to have a personal-use clause.  But I didn’t think we could live with that anymore in the digital age without causing serious problems.

DOOR:  What has the response to your book been like?
SCHULTZE:  Phenomenal.  And the funny thing is, usually by the time I finish writing a book, I’m so sick of the doggone thing that I don’t want to talk to anybody about it.  But this time I thought, “You know what?  This topic still grabs me.”  So I’m working on a follow-up.

DOOR:  Wait, let us guess: Habits of the High-Tech Heart 8.0?
SCHULTZE:  Uh, no.  I’m thinking of titling it something like The Habits of Love in the Information Age.  What I want to do is focus on four Christian practices that we should revive in the midst of this information technology that’s all around us.

DOOR:  What are they?
SCHULTZE:  Neighborliness, hospitality, friendship, and leisure.

DOOR:  What do you mean by “neighborliness”?
SCHULTZE:  Neighborliness, in the sense of the Good Samaritan.  No matter how different somebody is from us, we’re there to help them in whatever way we can and to be aware each day of how we can do this.  Sadly, neighborliness has become whoever’s next door to you, yet there’s a deep Christian tradition regarding who your neighbor is.  Saddam Hussein may be our enemy, but he’s our neighbor too.

DOOR:  What about hospitality?
SCHULTZE:  Hospitality means making room for the stranger, the person who’s different.  The monasteries were the champions of hospitality.  Most of the monastic traditions had as part of their code that they would accept anybody who came to the door.

DOOR:  We’ll still accept anyone who comes to The Door, especially if he’s willing to subscribe.
SCHULTZE:  Part of hospitality is willingness to listen.  When I first got to Calvin twenty years ago, I went to the library and looked up the number of books that we had on speech versus the number of books that we had on listening.

DOOR:  What did you discover?
SCHULTZE:  It was like four hundred to ten, which I find very strange because you can make the case that because God first spoke, listening is the first and most important human communicative activity.  So I thought that was interesting, that even in a Christian college we’d be so out of balance.  In a fallen world, where we all want to get our egos going and our websites revved up for action so that everybody can know who we are—

DOOR:  The Door has a website.

DOOR:  Uh, friendship?
SCHULTZE:  By that I mean friendship in the sense of John 15.  A friend is the person who would lay down his life for you, just as God laid down the life of his Son.

DOOR:  And who would also lay down a lot of other things short of life for you.
SCHULTZE:  Everything.  It’s the suffering servant right there.  Giving it all, rather than, as the dot-com ‘90s would’ve had it, acquiring it all.

DOOR:  Leisure?
SCHULTZE:  I was going to call it “Sabbath keeping” because I’m in the Calvinist tradition, but it’s actually been better developed by Catholics than by Protestants, especially recently by Josef Pieper, the German theologian who’s got a book called Leisure Is the Basis of Culture.

DOOR:  It’s also the basis of some really ugly suits.
SCHULTZE:  God himself established the importance of leisure by working six days then taking the next day off to reflect back on and to express gratitude for what was done.  That concept of leisure can reconnect us with a deep part of what cosmic reality is.

DOOR:  Sounds like a book to us.
SCHULTZE:  What I want to do is, in a winsome, positive way, present these four habits of the heart that have this incredible Christian depth and Christian tradition to them, long predating Protestantism, and see if I can’t develop them in an information-age context, so that people say, “Yeah, there’s something there that I want to recapture for my life.”

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