September 29, 2020

Our Digital Life: Perils & Possibilities

By Chaplain Mike

In our discussions about catechetical teaching this week, issues were raised with respect to this age of digital communication in which we now live.

Greg, for example, commented, “…we are facing not just illiteracy, but an epistemology shift. Not only is generation next learning in different ways, it seems they flat do not trust the old ones. Somebody needs to take a stand for the written word in a way that does not trash nano technology whole cloth. This will take some thought and wisdom.”

Then the other night I saw that Frontline (PBS) was airing a program called, Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier. Did you get a chance to watch it?

The introduction to the website that accompanies this program says:

Within a single generation, digital media and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialize and even conduct war. But is the technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? And is our 24/7 wired world causing us to lose as much as we’ve gained?

In the program, producer Rachel Dretzin and commentator Douglas Rushkoff lead a tour of this new world. Rushkoff was once an enthusiastic proponent for internet technology, claiming that it was leading to a significant step in the evolution of humanity. Now, however, he wonders “whether or not we are tinkering with something more essential than we realize.”

The first part of the program focused on some of the most gifted students in the United States and their reflections on how being constantly connected via digital communication has affected their learning and their lives.

Creating People Who Are Unable to Think?
Digital Nation takes the viewer first to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to interact with young “digital natives”—students who know only a world with continual access to the internet and digital communication. Studies show that most of them are spending more than 50 hours a week with digital media. What impact has this new reality had on their lives?

“Honestly, I can’t sit somewhere for two hours straight and focus on anything,” says a student named Alex. “Maybe it’s some technology dependence I’ve developed over the course of the years, but at this point I don’t think I can go back to just focusing on one thing.”

David Jones, an Associate Professor, remarked on how students in his classes are doing on tests.

There are two sorts of things you can test students about. You can test how well they’re paying attention in lecture and you can test how well they’re absorbing information from readings that you assign. And I don’t think they’re doing either of those things well.”

I just gave my class a midterm, and I was really asking obvious questions that, had they been attending carefully in lecture and had they been doing the readings carefully, everyone should have gotten 100 percent on this exam. And the mean score was probably about a 75 percent. It’s not that the students are dumb, it’s not that they’re not trying, I think they’re trying in a way that’s not as effective as it could be because they’re distracted by everything else.

Prof. Sherry Turkle gives a similar report.

I teach the most brilliant students in the world. But they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There really are important things you cannot think about unless it’s still and you’re only thinking about one thing at a time. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with 15 other things.

The show also interviews Prof. Clifford Nass, from another of America’s most prestigious universities, Stanford. Prof. Nass is doing research on how well digital “multitaskers” do with juggling the various tasks they try to keep in the air at the same time. His results have not been encouraging.

Virtually all multitaskers think they are brilliant at multitasking. And one of the big discoveries is, You know what? You’re really lousy at it! It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests they’re worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.

A Natural Evolutionary Process?
Nevertheless, there are supporters who say it is essential for educators and leaders in our society to meet students and citizens where they are. We must learn to communicate effectively to them with the tools they are using habitually in their own lives.

Some posit that we are still in a transition period, witnessing the natural struggle of leaving old paths behind while embracing new ways. Such transitions always involve loss as well as gain.

For example, one proponent of digital technology points out that when print media replaced oral culture, the habit of long memory gradually became lost. The skill was no longer needed in an age when information was written down and could be readily consulted. We have forgotten and no longer mourn the loss of oral culture. Rather, we have adapted, considering written works the primary repositories of our historical, philosophical, cultural, and theological treasures. It is through consulting them, studying them, analyzing them, and contemplating them that we believe we gain understanding and wisdom. But most people have only had access to written sources for about 500 years, and it is only in the last two centuries that education has been pervasive enough for a significant number of the population to become readers. Yet most of us view books as though they have always been the way of obtaining serious information. Truth is, the age of reading involved a long, complex transition from an earlier way of wisdom.

Are we in a similar transition period today? Could it be that some of what we see as negative effects of the digital age actually represent messy stages of development within a natural evolutionary process? Might some of these new ways become as established and honored as reading books once was? Might they lead to gains and advantages we cannot now comprehend, while moving us to leave behind other habits we now consider essential? Will our learning and communication styles adapt and allow us to forge into the future with our ability to think and relate well intact or even improved?

Faith in the Digital Age
In our current conversation here at Internet Monk, we are most concerned with how the world of digital communication will affect our journey with Christ as individuals and in the community of faith. It is obvious that we don’t deny the usefulness of the internet and digital communication. After all, you are reading a blog! We would not continue if we thought the information and opinions we disseminate here and the discussions they provoke were a waste of time.

I will admit that I do have concerns. There is still a big difference for me between reading a book and reading a blog post. Each post I write (or read) is little more than a “thought for the day”—a discussion-starter that leads to a disembodied conversation between people who don’t really know each other, rarely lasting more than 24 hours. Then we move on to another thought. And another. We approach serious topics in snippets.

In contrast, a book requires that I slow down and think through extended arguments. I am required to take my time and follow closely. I cannot effectively multitask when one of those tasks is reading a book. Oh, I might have some background noise on—music, tv, etc.—but in order to truly digest what I am reading, I must be able to concentrate. I must give attention and focus that attention as if I were having an extended face to face conversation with the author.

Furthermore, is it possible that effective ways of relating to God (and other people) transcend whatever information technology dominates at any given point in history? Is Prof. Turkle correct when she says, “There really are important things you cannot think about unless it’s still and you’re only thinking about one thing at a time”? Immersing oneself in silence, taking time for solitude, and giving focused attention to God through scripture and prayer have always been commended as essential practices for spiritual formation—in all ages. For only then can we truly listen. Only then is meditation and contemplation possible.

If people who sought spiritual growth felt they must flee noisy and chaotic city life two thousand years ago, even when their ancient culture was dominated by oral communication, and even before most people owned books, what would they do in today’s world?

I remember reading A.W. Tozer’s words long ago, in an age when print media was expanding: “Beware a Reader’s Digest mindset.” Reader’s Digest takes full-length articles from other publications and boils them down into brief, simplified posts that can be read quickly. You may peruse a wide number of subjects, along with brief humor and special interest columns, in a short amount of time without having to expend a lot of effort. Tozer believed that kind of approach amounted to intellectual and spiritual suicide, keeping company with the devil himself.

People have had the same concerns about television for years now. We’ve worried about visual images replacing written content and an entertainment mentality overtaking reading and serious study. We complain about short attention spans and a consumerist mentality that encourages passivity and the need to be constantly stimulated.

Some see the current digital revolution as one more step down a perilous course leading to the impoverishment of intellectual ability. As Prof. Sherry Turkle put it on the Digital Nation program, “Speaking for myself, if all I do is my email and my calendar and my searches and my—I feel great. I feel like a master of the universe, getting my calendar and my meetings and my—I just feel great. And then it’s the end of the day, I’ve been busy all day, and I haven’t thought about anything hard. I mean, the point is—the point of it is to be our most creative selves, not to distract ourselves to death.” Is this where we’re going?

I encourage you to go to the Digital Nation website and spend some time there. You can watch the program online or read the transcript. In addition, you will find digital interviews with people who have submitted their own stories about living in the digital age. You can participate in discussions and find resources to help you think about this subject more fully. Their website is, in fact, a good example of the benefits of living in this wired world!

Church, what do you think?

It is my impression that many Christians are not taking this matter and its possible implications for spiritual formation seriously enough. Generally, evangelicals concentrate on reaching people for Christ and building churches and ministries. Whenever we find a new, shiny tool that we think might help us do that, we pick it up, ooh and aah over it, and go about trying to use it without much thought. However, if we are in the midst of a cultural transition that is equivalent to what happened beginning in the days of Gütenberg, it might behoove us to give the subject more consideration than that.

Perhaps, if we respond with God’s wisdom, it might even undergird a new Reformation.


  1. I totally agree that we are in a time of significant shift related to technology, and I also believe that as followers of Jesus we need to spend some time seriously considering the consequences of this shift and how we continue to follow Jesus in the world. I agree that we have done that poorly. There is another, opposite danger though that the church has been known to gravitate towards – avoiding anything new because we are afraid of it. Avoiding technology because we don’t understand it and fear it will simply cause us to be out of touch just as we have been when it comes to the modern/post-modern shift. I believe that we need to thoughtfully and prayerfully embrace technology. But maybe that’s because I am a bit of a tech geek!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      In a lot of technology and ideas and memes, Christians (TM) have a reputation for being Late Adopters.

      It’s especially blatant in Christianese Pop Culture, to the point it’s become a joke: You can tell when a mainstream fad has reached the end of its life-cycle and finally died when the Christianese knockoffs start getting pushed heavily in the Jesus Junk stores.

      P.S. Multitasking (TM) is a favorite of pointy-haired bosses everywhere. Why spend the money hiring someone to handle the extra workload when you can just dump it on an existing salaried-exempt employee and lecture him about Multitasking (TM)?

      There are people who naturally multitask. In my case, it’s called Severe Attention Deficit Disorder and Analysis Paralysis, with Paging/Thrashing Rate approaching 100%.

  2. I believe rapid evolution of information technology is going to lead us into a whole new world as revolutionary as the industrial revolution, but we have just begun to taste what the new world will look like. But, just like the industrial revolution had unexpected consequences, so will this new world.

    But, we must look at the short term impacts on the church. Clearly the 40 minute plus sermons have to go, no one raised in the new age is going to listen to a 40 minute sermon. Here is where I think a connection to the past is good. Church must go back to its roots and be more participatory. A connection to historical liturgies would help create a participatory service.

    I also believe the laser lights and fog machines must go. I was in a concert recently and all the under 20 year olds were bored to death. They do not want to be entertained, their attention span is too short. They want to participate, this is a good thing.

    One danger is that we try to transform, but do not really understand. For most churches, technology=Power Point and projector. It really isn’t about technology itself, but about how technology has impacted people. Information has given shorter attention spans, but it had made us much more aware of the world around us. It is the impact on people that is important, not the technology itself.

  3. Interesting, a friend had hired a young person straight out of college. When asked if he could do a particular task, he said in a meeting “I can do all things through Google”.

    Scary, arrogant, or true….it does not matter. Next generation has a different view of problems and the world.

    • Beelzebub's Grandson says

      And “Don’t be evil” represents the apex of contemporary ethical thought.

    • As an internet web developer, I can tell you that it is very, very, true. Don’t know how to do something? Google it. Or see how others have done it on YouTube. It has worked for me with anything from Web Developement, house renovations, cooking, and rock climbing.

      • Work-outs, computer repair, medical self-diagnosis, folding clothes military-style, college essay citations . . . all thanks to Google . . .

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          I second that. It’s both a blessing and a curse

        • Conversations via email in languages I don’t know is my favorite example. If the person on the other end thinks I speak Italian, then I actually do, in a way. To an external observer, I became smarter by hooking my brain to Google.

  4. On the multitasking thing, it seems to me that I am hearing more and more pushback against multitasking as people recognize that multitasking generally means doing several things poorly. There seems to be a move towards focusing on one thing at a time and doing it well.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What Multitasking (TM) means to me is doing the work of several code monkeys while being paid for only one.

      My mind normally “multitasks”, though a better word would be “thrashing between so many things I never have time to follow through on any one of them,” and I’m not the biggest loser along those lines in my experience. Various fandoms — SF, Fantasy, Comix, Anime, Furry — are full of such hyperactive thrashers.

      It has seemed to get worse over the years, as Information Overload gets more and more intense and I get more and more piled on at work — the Firehose-Into-the-Teacup Effect. As a kid, I used to have the Hyperfocus ability of Aspergers (my dad could Hyperfocus like you wouldn’t believe), but that ability died around 10-15 years ago; now I’m in near-constant Analysis Paralysis or thrashing between so many trains of thought without being able to focus on any one long enough to accomplish anything. It’s like Professor Gelertner’s description of today’s hyperactive passivity: Everybody constantly running around in circles screaming, but nothing ever gets done.

  5. Randy Thompson says

    Kiekegaard has something interesting to say about multitasking:

    “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

  6. Yes, I’ve noticed that I’ve become markedly more impatient as I’ve become accustomed to the practically instantaneous results from the computer; if I have to sit down and listen to/watch a long presentation, if something takes longer than a minute or two to load, if I can’t fast-forward to the interesting bits (I’ve noticed this particularly with the opening credits of films), I’m mentally tapping my foot in impatience.

    Oddly enough, I will still happily sit down and read through a long book (one with no pictures, even!) but that’s probably down to personal temperament.

    From the Pope’s Message for the upcoming 45th World Communications Day (this year, on 5th June):

    On the occasion of the 45th World Day of Social Communications, I would like to share some reflections that are motivated by a phenomenon characteristic of our age: the emergence of the internet as a network for communication. It is an ever more commonly held opinion that, just as the Industrial Revolution in its day brought about a profound transformation in society by the modifications it introduced into the cycles of production and the lives of workers, so today the radical changes taking place in communications are guiding significant cultural and social developments. The new technologies are not only changing the way we communicate, but communication itself, so much so that it could be said that we are living through a period of vast cultural transformation. This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship.

    …I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life. The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness. In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith that Christ is God, the Saviour of humanity and of history, the one in whom all things find their fulfilment (cf. Eph 1:10). The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive, which stimulates the heart and moves the conscience; one which reflects the example of the risen Jesus when he joined the disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35). By his approach to them, his dialogue with them, his way of gently drawing forth what was in their heart, they were led gradually to an understanding of the mystery.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Yes, I’ve noticed that I’ve become markedly more impatient as I’ve become accustomed to the practically instantaneous results from the computer…

      Oddly enough, I will still happily sit down and read through a long book (one with no pictures, even!) but that’s probably down to personal temperament.

      Well, that could explain a phenomenon in today’s publishing industry (which is really killing me and other novella-length writers): A fiction market consisting of one-page Flashfics, 500+ page Trilogy Components, and NOTHING in-between.

      • Yes, I’ve noticed the Death of the Short Story.

        And sometimes I don’t feel like ploughing through three, five or eight volumes of a series; I would just like a story that wraps up in one volume (detective/crime fiction is good for this, though there again, if you get a good series going, there will be multiple novels in that series).

        Proper (sic) Literature is good on the Slim Volume, but oftentimes said Slim Volume is all about unpleasant people or situations that are of no interest (what I personally characterise as the Hampstead Adultery Novel; nice upper-middle class couple who have been sailing along in agreeable lives until he or she or both of them have an affair and woe and angst ensue. Oh, the problems of having good jobs, sufficient incomes, and pieds-a-terre in the Shires or France or Italy to which one can retire to have a mid-life crisis or plaint over one’s spouse! Yeah, I’m less than sympathetic to your heart-wrenching afflictions there, mate).

  7. i have participated in a few Christian themed message forums. the lower case ‘e’ emerging folk emphasized the electronic conversation as being the new dynamic in the exchange of ideas.

    i appreciate the technical ‘ease’ modern electronic communication & digital storage+retrieval proceesses provide me as a user. however, they cannot replace the human connection & communication or replace analytical thinking without distraction.

    I feel the definite increase in the amount of data streaming throughout the electronic broadcast venues today not necessarily a march forward in evolution. the younger generation innundated with such volume of data are not somehow better gifted at extracting the deeper issues behind each sound/video bite. i think they are incapable of recognizing the important info from the urgent, loud, more visually impacting stuff. more does not translate into better or effecient or processing it all effectively. i think info overload is what the younger people live with as a general rule so quiet contemplation or prolonged concentration on any one topic/subject/project harder for them to do. i used to feel a bit ‘old fashioned’ in my lack of electronic technical comfort. now i think i might be wiser for resisting its allure at my age. an anti-technology revolutionary of sorts. off the grid? i have to think this one thru a bit more (sans electronic distractions…)

  8. Beelzebub's Grandson says

    “Then the other night I saw that Frontline (PBS) was airing a program called, Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier. Did you get a chance to watch it?”

    This question already points to a generational divide. (TV shows that “air” at specific times?)

    “Reader’s Digest takes full-length articles from other publications and boils them down into brief, simplified posts that can be read quickly.”

    Thank you for explaining that, but most of us know the magazine thanks to our grandmothers.

    The transition to a written culture had other effects, other than the de-emphasis on memory. For example, it was accompanied by a transition to guild-like religions supported by military empires. Perhaps the future religion will be more tribal, more natural to us as a species, with shamans instead of creeds.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This past Monday I was in my opthamologist’s waiting room (followup eye exam) and ended up leafing through a Reader’s Digest for reading material. All I can say is compared to the Reader’s Digests I knew from my youth (i.e. the 1960s & 1970s), today’s is a fluffy lightweight. All “Blip-verts” and Flashfic-length articles and fluff, and the book excerpts that used to be their longest pieces (and often intrigued me to check out the full books) were completely missing.

    • Here I go, taking exception.

      What, pray tell, is “more natural to us as a species” about a tribal versus guild religion? Since as a species we’ve developed both forms, both are equally natural. It’s a bit like saying “going on all fours will be more natural to us as a species” since becoming bipedal and walking upright is so terribly artificial a gait compared to the rest of the quadrupeds.

      Having gotten that off my chest, please further explain to me what is a “guild” religion, exactly? If you don’t think shamans have a complex and codified system of their own, but just waft about like New Age channellers tinkling their crystals, I think you’ve got another think coming.

      ‘Primitive’ societies are as stratified, codified, status-ridden and humanly complicated as any.

      • Beelzebub's Grandson says

        A guild is an association of professionals, and their proteges, which attempts to restrict competition. Most modern, large-scale religions are controlled by such guilds. (See Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained.”) Their history goes back several thousand years, to the rise of “civilization” with its more intense division of labor, use of money, record-keeping, and social stratification. Tribal society, by contrast, goes back much, much further (possibly before the appearance of humanity per se) and is in that sense more natural to us. Tribalism is arguably encoded in our genes.

        The proper use of the word “shaman” is debated, depending on how restrictive one feels the usage ought to be. (The New Age variety is usually termed “neo-shamanism.”) Shamans in the classical sense are associated with small-scale, tribal societies. It is in this sense that I say shamanism is more natural to us. Of course these societies have the usual range of human problems, and their religious professionals are no more saintly than ours. Actually, quasi-shamanic roles could be seen as arising within aspects of Christianity, e.g. the Pentecostal / Charismatic movement.

  9. I think this kind of post provides a much needed context for the urgency of catechesis , but also any and all disciplines that slow us down and help us be reflective and focused. Technology will just reflect the dominant and popular directions of the populace. If they want bright, shiny, easily digestible sound bytes, then by Madison Ave, they (we) shall have them.

    In other words, it’s not technology , per se, that tells the tale, it’s the culture that builds it is a way that reflects today’s appetites and desires and goals. By looking at much of today’s technology, what can we learn about ourselves, and what in this picture needs to be redeemed ?? How can these needs, once identified, now be addressed by the gospel ?? I think the developing of solid catechism for all ages would be one welcome step among many. To the poster who started off this thread, I’d say technology must be SELECTIVELY both embraced and avoided (or constrained/amended) as the moment and the Holy Spirit determine. There are times where more is not better, and we need the “OFF” button, and a playlist that features: NOTHING. This gives GOD some space to get in a word or maybe a word and a half.

    Stay with this thought, Chap Mike, and flesh it out; gen next WILL thank you.

    • PS: I work with a crew that quickly gravitates to their smart phones: it’s like pulling teeth to get people to actually WORK 8 hrs @ work. The running joke is “can you do x, y, or z…. if your facebook fans can wait, that is….”

    • “I’d say technology must be SELECTIVELY both embraced and avoided (or constrained/amended) as the moment and the Holy Spirit determine.”

      Seconded. Although my personal desires might lead toward Luddite-style smashing of the computer servers and guarding the printed word with bared teeth and a big club, your statement is (sigh) both more kinder and more reasonable . . .

    • It’s true, Greg, that technology reflects its culture; but it’s also true that technology changes a culture — and not just the culture but the individual and the individual’s habits and even brain connections. The human relationship with technology is not a neutral one. We change it and it changes us. I agree with you strongly that we need wisdom in using it, because who knows what it will turn us into?

      I also found the comment about the transition from oral literature to books compelling. Socrates never wrote anything down and apparently said that his students shouldn’t, either, because writing things down made you stupider. Of course we only know that because Plato disobeyed. We know now that, although we lost some qualities of mind in moving to books, we also gained some valuable skills. What will the new technology cause us to lose and to gain? Right now I confess I see more of the loss than the gain, as far as personal and interpersonal development go, anyway. But hey, I’m saying that on a blog!

      • Totally agree as to the “micro” and “macro” effects of culture upon us. And bloggers like myself should probably mind the former more than the latter. Specifically , I think much of the newer technology shortens attention span, and whets our appetite for image over substance. I think it is a huge myth that the newer technology is any more “interactive”, we just interact in radically different ways.

        I’d love to hear or read a fuller treatment of the subject as it relates to worship and the inner life of a disciple. One evangelical thread could be : what about multiple campuses of the same church where the word is shared off site via large screen ?? What does this do to the message ?? there are a tribe of questions out there similar to this one: is a facebook small group an expression of koinonia ?? and this can go on…


  10. 1. I like television and movies in small doses. Sometimes I surf through the movies on TV and push the “Info” button that tells what the movies are about and so many of them seem mindless and a waste of time, to me anyway. But then, I watch the TV show “Survivor” which many would call a waste of time and even though I actually agree with them, I am still watching it. What’s up with that?

    2. Computers are great for finding information: checking out sections of books at Amazon and google books; finding recipes; keeping track of personal info; sharing photos/news with friends/family. But like Martha wrote about up above, I don’t have much patience for things to load or for pages where the font and the background colors are very annoying. And when I have to call my remote PC help people because our PC is going nuts with malware or trojans, I really think I would like to give up on computers.

    3. My job requires me to be available by pager or phone from 8 a.m. Monday morning through 5 pm on Friday evening. And the supervisors HOPE that we would also answer calls on the weekend so that someone on Duty does not get stuck with it. So, I really dislike pagers and I am not thrilled with cell phones except for personal emergency purposes. The kids I work with are ADDICTED to their cells phones; they don’t want them to leave their hands. They also use them to talk very mean to and about other kids that they dislike. They sometimes get charged due to things they post in text messages, Facebook and the like. So, I find myself very happy that there were no cell phones when I was a kid. We didn’t even have cordless phones! My mother used to tell me how badly she felt for me having to talk to my boyfriend on the phone while we were breaking up when everyone was right around to hear every word and sniffle.

    Chaplain Mike writes, “Truth is, the age of reading involved a long, complex transition from an earlier way of wisdom.” This is interesting to think about, Chaplain Mike. The brains of humans must have been so different when everything had to be remembered. But did they have to remember as much as we feel we have to remember now? If people were hunter/gatherers, they had to remember what grew where, what plants will kill them, where the animals are hanging out and moving to, and practical things like that. In addition, they passed down stories and songs from one generation to the next. I wonder if they could focus better than we could?

    I have tried to stay somewhat up with technology but all these smart phones and tablets are getting beyond what I understand, I think. There are so many things out there now, I can’t keep track of it. My cell phone doesn’t even have a camera on it and I have never sent a text message. And we haven’t set it up to record calls.

    Anyway, I will likely be using computers for a long time. And watching TV/movies. But I am also still reading a lot. I guess what is suffering is one-on-one relationships. My husband is quite “needy” so he takes most of my personal time. I see my sisters maybe once a month for something or other. I have four female friends that I go away with for one weekend a year. We have big family gatherings several times a year. What I don’t really have, though, is a “best friend” apart from my husband and sisters. No one just to call and be completely myself. I find the need to “protect” my sisters in terms of not telling them all things. I still am fortunate, though, that I do have the people in my life that I do have.

    I think I got rambling and a bit off-topic. Oh, I don’t multi-task well and I like it quiet when I need to focus on things. I can EAT, though, while I do anything!

  11. Dan Allison says

    We actually transform our brains depending on what we do with them. I’ve worked in bookstores and now I work at a computer store. Bookstore customers are patient, attentive, take an interest in what’s around them. Computer store customers are impatient, pushy, uninterested in anything but getting what they need and checking out. People who read books still have analog brains, while computer people have actually shaped their brains into being more digital. I hope this makes sense. When God says He wants to renew or transform our minds through the reading of scripture, I believe He means it literally.

    Take the example of addiction. The pothead and the porn addict have actually transformed their brains so that they virtually require a regular fix. Given the nature of our brains, it’s better to be “addicted” to prayer and scripture than to sinful behaviors.

    As for how to use this technology, I see a lot of mistakes. Churches brag about how many people “like” them on Facebook. Webcasting services — like telecasting — simply encourages people to stay home. Big websites with lots of bells and whistles cost plenty of money — what do they really accomplish? We haven’t even learned to use television properly, and it’s been around sixty or seventy years. Almost the only Christian sites I go to are iMonk and Mockingbird. I think Facebook has potential for me to reach my Facebook friends, but I’m not sure it’s right for churches. And now Rome has announced that you can confess your sins via some cell phone app — I think we’ve all gone a little crazy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      People who read books still have analog brains, while computer people have actually shaped their brains into being more digital. I hope this makes sense. When God says He wants to renew or transform our minds through the reading of scripture, I believe He means it literally.

      1) Then where do I fit in? I’m a natural-talent speedreader, an aficionado of Old School F&SF, and I work in software and do a lot of my communication with “e-pen pals” on the Net. (Including Martha from Ireland.)

      Take the example of addiction. The pothead and the porn addict have actually transformed their brains so that they virtually require a regular fix. Given the nature of our brains, it’s better to be “addicted” to prayer and scripture than to sinful behaviors.

      2) This can also have its downside. In Conservative Islam, there is often extreme importance placed on memorizing and reciting the entire Koran. (This is also the entrance exam for the Religious Police in such places as Saudi, Iran, and wherever Talibanistan is these days.) In the most extreme cases in Third World Madrassas, there is extreme (and often physically abusive) pressure to memorize the entire Koran by age 5. Problem is, at age 5 the brain is still wiring itself, and high-pressure rote memorization at that age causes the brain to wire itself around the rote memorization — it literally becomes impossible to think “outside the box” of that memorization and recitation. (As that one Army Intel type from Iraq told me, “The wall in the mind just slams down, after which there is only “It Is Written!”) This is one of the things that’s stagnated Islam in modern times, and Extreme Scripture Memorization among Extreme Evangelicals is a type of catechesis that can have the same effect — a Holy-book-quoting True Believer Robot instead of a grown person who believes.

    • My church communicates via facebook to several times the number of people who come through our doors, and on a daily basis rather than once a week. And it is not about promoting programs or the latest sermon series, or pushing out scripture. We are a part of their daily lives, being there, sending out little pieces of God’s grace with things like prayers when they’re sick or struggling, or hitting the ‘like’ button on their grandkid pics. It is a community ministry more than a communications vehicle for staff.

  12. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I am ALWAYS plugged in. And that’s probably not a good thing. When my Internet went down for a couple of hours last week, it was actually more inconvenient than when my hot water was down for three days. Because I own my own business, I’m always on call through my smart phone. Last time I went on vacation, I intentionally didn’t bring a computer (other than my smartphone) just so I could somewhat unplug for a bit.

    In my last few semesters of my Master’s I took all my notes on a netbook. It was great. I recently went to a church planting conference and planned on doing the same thing, but I wasn’t charged up. Instead, I found an unused lined journal with great Celtic cross and knotwork on it. I find it’s a lot easier to access my notes from the conference than the ones from my Master’s. While I often read stuff at my computer, on my phone, or with an e-reader (I was using eBooks back when Palm Pilots were in Black and White), I MUCH prefer paper books. The e-readers are great for portability and for accessing more stuff, but the UI is nowhere near as peaceful as a paperback. The worst is electronic bibles. I’ve got a lot of ’em, but navigation is a total pain unless you know the address of the passage for which you’re looking.

    While it may be a few years before I’m planting a church or leading my own church, at this point, I’m pretty much decided that I want to use traditional liturgy, pew bibles, hymnals, etc. The reason for that is that I want it to be a place that is DIFFERENT from the rest of the world. I want it to be a place of reflection, serenity, reverence and peace, as well as worship. That’s not to say that other expressions are necessarily bad, of course. For example, my current church is very talkative before service because people are so FRIENDLY. I think that welcoming atmosphere is part of my parish’s Unique Selling Point (USP). I’d like otherworldly peace and serenity to be part of the USP of the church I someday help plant.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I am ALWAYS plugged in. And that’s probably not a good thing. When my Internet went down for a couple of hours last week, it was actually more inconvenient than when my hot water was down for three days.

      Which is why I usually stay away from the internet (except for checking favorite online comics) when I’m on vacation, and sometimes I spend entire weekends deliberately without “plugging in” or logging on. Just to have an internet “fast” and/or “vacation”.

      In Eighties Cyberpunk SF, they had this thing called “Cyberpsychosis” or “Whitesiding”, where the Virtual became the Real and RL faded into unreality. Internet Addiction is the RL version of (or precursor to) that fictional malady.

  13. This could be its own meme, but pity the poor preachers who decide to Googlerize their sermons with loads of ‘illustrations’ in order to make the message relevant and interesting. I heard a sermon recently that did this, and 15 min. into it, I was dying on the inside wondering when the %*^&^&$^ we were actually going to hear some interaction with the TEXT…….oh, yeah, that…. Eventually he got to it, and the sermon was not that bad, but I could have lived without 14 illustrations telling me that the world is rotten and needs a Savior. Had that one figured out before I entered the building. I think our saturation with news in general, and the internet news bytes in particular have infected a LOT of our teaching. You EO I-Monkers can stop smirking anytime now, yeah you Fr. Enzo….


    • Had a similar experience once and can sympathize. Except in my case I found the sermon illustration later on Snopes. That was sort of disappointing, even though the message of the sermon was good.

  14. Oh thank heavens–finally someone who doesn’t come out bemoaning the loss of the “old ways” and how terrible the new ways are, how much better it was back in the 50s/70s/whenever they were coming of age. I thought the metaphor with the transition from oral to written and the rise of the common person being able to read (not just the purview of the elite!) was very relevant–is this a transition point?

    Back in the early 90s I was already addicted to email, and the first time I was without my keyboard for three days straight, my fingers kept itching and scrabbling at nearby surfaces. 🙂 That was something of a wake-up call. And yes, there are actually strategies for handling it–using email or Twitter or Facebook as a reward, in 10 minute segments, or only checking your email from 4-5 pm rather than every time it goes ping. I saw the study about multitasking in class–that’s key and should get a lot more play!

  15. David Cornwell says

    As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think of the biblical treatment of keeping the Sabbath. How do we teach and practice this in a digital age? During Lent this is our study at church this year, the Sabbath, what means to us today, how do we restore it. This is an age of hurry, stress, and never stopping. We all multi-task one way or another it seems.

  16. Creating People Who Are Unable to Think?

    Well, that’s an interesting statement. Perhaps we’ve come full circle. Was it not the practice of the early church to leave the reading and interpretation or scriptures to the priests? Folks weren’t expected to think, only to hear and follow instructions like good little sheeple.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Creating People Who Are Unable to Think?

      How does that differ from an ANIMAL?

      (And as a 20-year veteran of Furry Fandom, you get confronted with and have to think about what distinguishes Animals from People. In Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill makes the point that Torah was intended to force us into Transcending the Animal. In Reading Between the Lines Gene Edward Veith argues that the ban on Graven Images in favor of the Written Word was meant to force us out of the universal primate dependence on sight — “Monkey See, Monkey Do” — and force abstract thinking through verbal and written comprehension.)

    • Sorry, the phrase “sheeple” always makes me laugh.

      Yeah, when you’re driving up a (very narrow) mountain road and you come across a ram lying down slap-bang in the middle of it, staring at you and your vehicle with a “What about it, buster?” expression on his face before slooowly getting up and ambling off, tell me again about how sheep are so biddable and cowed 🙂

  17. Let me suggest that these technologies and new media are not all that different from other innovations in history. When Les Paul created the electric guitar, it allowed those who could play guitar to play it louder and fuzzier. It didn’t alter that a guitar is or what it is good for. It was musical enterainment centuries earlier, and is musical entertainment now. Ditto the electric toothbrush, the cotton gin and the airplane. Each of these things alters HOW people do things and HOW LONG it takes them to do it. But nothing ever invented has changed what is beautiful and true, nor what is necessary for human health and well-being.

    All these new technologies are good to the extent that someone who has something worth saying can say it eeasier now than in the days when you had to own a radio station or a printing press. That is a great good for us all. But not Twitter nor Facebook nor WordPress nor any other social media or technology makes an inane comment meaningful nor a dishonest person truthful.

    These new technologies are certainly going to change things in the sense that people are going to talk to each other on iPhones rather than talk to each other on the Princess Trimline upstairs extension or at the corner bar or at the water cooler or the pool hall or down by the washing stones in the shallow part of the stream or the well. But it is still just a means for people to talk to each other.

    The question now, as always, is do you have anything to say that is worth hearing?

    • I don’t ,now, have time for a worked out response, but I’ll disagree with what I THINK is the gist of your post, which seems to be that the package, the form of media is just a conduit, that the message lives apart from the media and just “uses” the media, like a hand uses a glove or something. A message that can be conveyed in the hours long presidential debates , say, between Lincoln and Douglas CANNOT just be summarized into sound bytes for today’s political adds. Nor is anyone really interested in that anyway.

      And it’s not just a matter of length or duration, When you televize something, immediately the VISUAL takes hold and becomes a dominant,, IMO, player no matter what else the message is trying to carry. Yes, some tweets are more meaningful than others, but you just can’t say some things adequately via tweet, or byplane banner, no matter how hard you try. Comments welcome, more later.


      • Would love to hear someone much smarter than me weigh in on how the gospel is often portrayed in STORY and NARRATIVE: involved mind pictures, if you will. They demand a lot of attention to detail, and a lot of imagination, a lot of putting yourself in the story. Is today’s technology sympathetic to that ? Why or why not ??


      • Greg, that is a good point. I think I agree completely.

        Bach wrote the St. Matthew’s Passion. Your point is that it sounds much better with full orchestra and chorus than played on kazoo. My point is that now even though everybody has his own orchestra and chorus, not many are composing new oratorios.

        In addition to yours and my points is a third thing: the question of whether these media will diminish human acuity. I think they probably will. But with a long view of history I doubt Twitter will prove a worse thing than tobacco or comic books or billiards or bhang or cosmetics or fishing or palm wine or chivalric tournaments or Cosmopolitan magazine or television or new math or potlatch feasts or Longaberger baskets or horse racing or $4 cups of coffee or ethnic pride or high school sports or a thousand other things that every culture in every aged has been subject to. Jesus died for the Tweeter and the Facebooker, too.

        • I follow your thought, here, but can’t help but wonder about how one media tends to push the others to the margins. The “new guy” is not just one choice among many, but it’s the big new thang, and how, for example, will that shape worship, when the printed word is seen more and more as an anachronism ?? Just wondering…

          It’s been said or implied by several here, though, that GOD is not taken by surprise or thrown off, it’s up to the church to “be read” as the poster below wisely noted.

          Thanks for the feedback; GregR

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Not to harp on the guitar analogy, but I think it DID fundamentally change the instrument. Sure, you’re still making music, but those who figured that the electric guitar was just a louder guitar completely miss a lot of what the electric guitar is. Rather than hearing the vibrations of strings amplified by a sound board and wooden box, the electric guitar takes electric translations of those vibrating and interprets them through a completely new signal. I.e you’re not hearing the strings of an electric guitar, but an electric signal that is audio-ized. Anyone who’s been primarily an acoustic guitarist and tries to make the transition to electric can attest that it’s a whole new ball game. How you play is different. What you play is different. Changes in tone and technique can happen in all new ways, some of which are nowhere near as intuitive as the much simpler acoustic guitar. It took me YEARS to figure out that the volume and tone knobs on my electric guitar make a BIG difference to the way the guitar and amp interact. The volume knob doesn’t just make the guitar louder, but fundamentally changes the sound, which fundamentally changes the way you play at different settings. And that’s not even taking signal processors like stomp boxes into account. Sure, you’re still making music. But you’re making completely DIFFERENT music.

      I think the same is true with digital communication vs. printing-press communication vs. handwritten communication vs. oral communication. Sure, it’s communication. But it’s totally DIFFERENT communication.

  18. There’s one more thing. Earlier in the thread someone says this:

    > Clearly the 40 minute plus sermons have to go, no one raised in the new age is going to listen to a 40 minute sermon. <

    Categorical and universal statements ("everyone," "always," "no one," "Never," etc.) usually can't be trusted, and this one can't be, either.

    There will be some among today's youth who will listen to lengthy sermons (if they are good sermons) as cheerfully in the future as some did in the past. if we knew the truth, the share of the total might not be all
    that different. Ushers in Puritan churches had to tickle people to keep 'em awake. Boredom in church isn't a new thing. What is new is the eagerness on many churches' part to pander to peoples' whims, rather than insist that they become better.

  19. Ugh. This post today was so long. Couldn’t you have put it in bullet points or something?

    That’s sarcasm, of course. But as a twenty-one year old college student, I have to admit that I had trouble reading it all the way through. My mind kept wandering around, bored. Case in point, I suppose?

    • Cipher, maybe you are on to something. I sincerely thought this post would get 150 comments, easily. I assumed it would be a topic of great interest. And maybe it is–however, perhaps only a few will take the time to read it!

  20. This whole discussion is missing a larger point. Humanity being changed by technology is not an unintended consequence. Many of the people who create and control the online/digital world are consciously and intentionally working to change who we think we are.

    Kurzweil and the Singularity crowd are the visible tip of a large iceberg of true nerd believers who really think we are nothing more than bit-handling gadgets and that it is time for our species to get out of the way and let the cloud evolve into a greater expression of reality then humans would be capable of on their own. Jaron Lanier (a computing world insider with impeccable nerd credentials) has written a great manifesto on this topic called You Are Not a Gadget. I suggest that all pastors and Christian leaders read it and get a clue about how the Enemy is operating in this digital age. Life-changing decisions for billions of people are being made daily by silicon valley geeks whose world view couldn’t be farther from what Jesus taught.

    There is a great opportunity here. People are, in fact, not just gadgets. Lanier (not a beleiver, but a REALLY smart guy) recognizes that his humanity is more. He can’t put his finger on it, and eventually concludes with a hope that we can begin to use technology to control our own evolution so that we can become more like octopi, who he believes have taken a more sustainable evolutionary track than us. (Seems weird, but given his worldview it makes total sense.) However, we know who we are–we’re created in the image of God.

    Eventually the hollowness of a life prescribed by “like/dislike” choices, mashed-up and compressed audio and video, and information from a million sources you don’t know will begin to ring untrue. The replacement of a few meaningful relationships with thousands of shallow digital connections that are really just data-gathering methodologies for the lords of the cloud to sell to marketers will begin to feel really hollow. We have something else entirely to offer people and there will come a time when they will be hungry for it. Let’s be ready.