What’s so good about light?

The darkness was suffocating. We were exploring cave in Northern California as a family. After hiking a mile from the parking lot, we scrambled through the brush to the gaping entrance and began our descent.

After about a half of a mile, we stopped at the end of the cave. At the same time, the six of us turned off our flashlights. You could practically touch the darkness. Except that you wouldn’t even have been able to see your hand as you did so.

Never had I experienced such complete lack of vision. Never had I been so engulfed in black.

First, I felt fear. What might be happening that I can’t see? I trust my children … to a degree. But what are they doing in this darkness? What else might be here that I can’t even imagine?

No one taught me to be afraid of the dark. It comes very naturally. As a child, I insisted on the lights being on as I fell asleep. I want to be able to see. I want to be able to know what’s out there.

Perhaps it makes sense, then, the first thing God created as he spoke the world into existence was light. The earth was formless void, but it was the “darkness over the face of the deep” that he got to work on first.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.         Genesis 1:3-4a

Just as my fear of the dark came about naturally, it seems obvious that the light which God created should be called good. Something within us immediately resonates with positive aspect of light. We love the light and we fear the dark.

The rest of the Bible affirms this natural sense. In Isaiah 5:20, God rebukes the Israelites for confusing good and evil by saying that they mistook darkness for light. In John 1:5, the incarnation of Jesus occurs despite a darkness that couldn’t understand him. The apostle Paul encourages early Christians in Ephesians 5:8, to live as children of light in contrast to their former state of darkness.

Light is good. Darkness is bad. It seems simple enough. Without explanation, it makes sense to us. But why? Why should the light be called good? What is so good about light?

History has affirmed our innate sense of the goodness of light. From the earliest days, people have created technology to cultivate light. The desire for light in dark places has driven countless inventions and innovations.

Imagine a primitive culture without any source of artificial light. Or simply imagine going camping without a flashlight or lantern. Wouldn’t one of your first desires—your first attempt at extending your natural capabilities—be to make it light when it would otherwise be dark?

The development of light technology spans beyond recorded human history. The earliest humans may have managed to control fire by 400,000 BCE. Torches allowed the convenience of portable light, though lamps wouldn’t come about for at least 300,000 years.

After the candle became common a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, humans had to wait almost two thousand years for new lighting developments. But in the 19th century, the arc lamp gave way to the gas street light, which led to kerosene lamps. Finally, the invention that now serves as the icon of a good idea, the light bulb was born in 1879.

Light technology has continued to develop from neon to fluorescent to LED and fiber optics. You may have missed the excitement of 2015 being declared the “year of the light” (http://www.light2015.org).  And you may be unaware that light based photonics are poised by replace silicon in powering the computers of the future (http://www.technologist.eu/tag/light/).

We may never stop innovating on creating more and better of the light that God called good so long ago.

Let’s go back to that dark cave for a moment. When we turned off our flashlights, my immediate response was fear of the unknown. But another sense quickly followed my anxiety. In the dark, I wasn’t only scared. I also felt powerful.

I realized that in a world where no one could see me, I could do anything that I wanted. And no one would know. Rarely had I known that kind of power.

If light is so good, then why did the darkness fill me with a sense of power?

Light has to do with truth. At its core, light doesn’t do anything. Light doesn’t create or modify or enhance what is. It simply reveals. Light exposes what is.

Most of the time I want to know what is true. Most of the time, I want to be able to see reality as it actually is. But there are times when I’d rather reality be different. There are times when I’d rather not see the truth. And there are many more times when I’d rather others not see the truth about me.

Technology can help us to shine light into dark places. But technology can also provide the cover of darkness for those who prefer it.

I spent some time investigating the underbelly of the internet commonly referred to as the dark web. It isn’t that much different from the internet that most people know and use. You access it with a web browser. There are news stories, social media sites, and places to shop. There isn’t anything inherently nefarious or evil about the dark web.

But the dark web is built on a simple value that distinguishes it from the rest of the internet: anonymity. Powerful algorithms are used to complete conceal the identity of anyone online. No one knows who you are.

It’s not that different from what I felt in that dark cave. In the dark, I could have tickled my daughter or tripped my son and no one would know. There’s a power and a freedom that comes with living in the dark.

But the power of darkness is a dangerous one. That’s why the Washington Post adopted the motto, “Democracy dies in darkness” in 2016. In fact, the cover of darkness has the potential to kill more than democracy.

Some of our technology opens our eyes to what is. We have developed tools to peer into distant galaxies, explore ocean depths, reveal the nature of human genetics, and explore our complex emotions. We can record and analyze events from multiple angles. We can express our true selves through text, photos and videos in real-time to friends around the world.

Some of our technology closes the blinds on the truth. We can retouch photos, manufacture backstories, and invent new personas. We can hide behind profiles and avatars. We can escape, manipulate and distort the truth.

Light is good for a simple reason. It yields truth. Click To Tweet

Light is good for a simple reason. It yields truth. And as hard or as shameful or as oppressive as the truth may be, it is always better than a lie. There is only one version of the truth, but there are countless forms of deception.

Do you use technology to reveal the truth and express yourself? Or do you use it hide what is, conceal what you’d rather not be, and convince others of what isn’t?

Since the inception of Facebook, their “real name” policy has required people to create accounts under what they refer to as an “authentic identity.” They want to be a place where real people express real thoughts and real ideas. They want to be a technology of light.

But apart from the problems and controversy that policy has caused, has it really worked? Is Facebook a place where you see people as they actually are? Do we know Facebook as a haven of authenticity and honest expression?

How do we create technology that helps the truth to be known? How do we encourage freedom of expression while discouraging deception. Is it possible to actually create a technology of light?

God spoke light into darkness and called it good. The world we live in may make his accomplishment seem easy. What does it look like to use and create technology based on the goodness of light?

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