Saturday, February 09, 2013

Technology and the Christian - Part 7

See previous articles for context (Part 1 here; Part 6 here)

In the previous articles I discussed the fact that some of our technology has a way of increasing our distractedness and decreasing our ability to attend to or focus on a task for an extended period of time. In addition technology has the potential to become an idol for us. One of the reasons that these issues concern me as a Christian is that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Word. That is, He has communicated with the human race through written words. If we do not know how to read, the communication from God is hindered. But most of us know how to read. The problem many have is the inability to focus for an extended amount of time in order to think about and analyze what God has said. In addition to not being able to focus, we have the problem of not being able to think deeply about the text.

In Joshua 1:8 God says, “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.” He goes on to explain that meditating on it brings success in our lives. This is not the kind of success to which most Americans aspire, but it is the kind of success Christians should work toward. It is the successful life of faith that builds a strong relationship with God and with other people. This success is founded on the wisdom of God that is gained as we think about and reflect on what God has said.

But in contradiction to this, we have developed a culture that is focused more on the visual media such as TV, movies and Internet browsing.

Here's an example of the time spent per day by percentages of young people on various media:

watch television: 84 percent 3:04 hours
use a computer 54 percent 48 minutes
read a magazine 47 percent 14 minutes
read a book 46 percent 23 minutes
play video games 41 percent 32 minutes at console; 17 minutes with handheld
watch videos/dvd 39 percent 32 minutes
watch prerecorded TV 21 percent 14 minutes
go to a movie; 13 percent.
(Dumbest, page 89)

There are many hindrances to extended thinking and meditating on God's Word. One of the more recent hindrances is the growing inability to focus on anything for an extended length of time. We are becoming more accustomed to reading web pages where there are multiple windows open begging us to look at them to see what is being advertised or what new event has been posted to Facebook. Throughout most of the texts we read online there are hyperlinks that tempt us to click in order to follow some rabbit trail of thought. While this helps us to extend our knowledge in some way, it also interrupts the flow of thought. Even if we don't click on the link, we are interrupted by the split-second thought of the possibility of clicking on it. As I mentioned previously, these constant interruptions of our train of thought change the way we think so that it becomes more and more difficult to focus for an extended period of time. Just ask someone under the age of 35 how it would feel to sit down for 30 or 40 minutes to read their Bible and think about it, with no background music, no TV, no cell phone beeps, and no interruptions of any kind. Just the thought of it brings pain and panic. Or how about asking them to listen to even an interesting lecture for 45 minutes? More pain and more panic.

Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, explains that research shows that the average person spends between 19 and 27 seconds at the most on any web page they visit. That means that if you are reading this sentence, you have spent way more time on this web page than most. How can a person who is used to this kind of scanning, sit down and hear from God through His Word? You simply can't take in a page of Scripture in 19 seconds! Rather than doing a lot of reading ourselves and encouraging our children to read, we spend time in front of the TV or with our computers and teach our children to do the same!

Part 8 available once it's been published here.

Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008.

Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.

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