[Editor’s Note: This is week tweleve of the From the Garden to the City Blog Tour]
In his last chapter (‘Recommendations’ seems more like a conclusion to me), John draws us in to look at our constant connection to the Internet. If there’s one thing we should have learned from this book, it’s that our technology transforms us as we use it to transform our world. The Internet is no exception, rather it is likely more likely to change us than any of the other tools we use. John focuses on two main roles that the Internet has in our lives: information creation/consumption and social connection. I think that sums the Web up quite well. Many of the things I do fit under either (or both) of those categories: RSS reading, writing, website development, email marketing, fantasy football, Twitter/Facebook, etc. Let’s take a closer look at the consumption of information on the Internet.
John identifies three things our modern digital tools tend to value:
For those of us with smartphones, we have the Internet at our fingertips at all times. No fact, score, answer, or song is more than a few seconds away. We are blessed to have such a wealth of data in our hands. What would have taken hours of library research now takes mere milliseconds.
However, because we bombard our minds with so much information, we’ve learned to speed-read the Internet. No one really reads content on a website, they scan it. I do this all the time: I scan through any new RSS items in Reeder and save the good ones for reading later in Instapaper. Interruption is a common hazard of having modern, Internet-connected technology.
Notifications are everywhere from phone calls, to emails, to scores of the football game. Face-to-face conversations are interrupted by calls or texts on a regular basis. I love having notifications on all my devices because I never miss a beat. I can respond to emails, texts, DM’s immediately.
All of speed and content is great, but at what consequence?
We now know to look at the negative effects that our technology carries. Are these values morally wrong? Not necessarily, but as John points out “in a sinful world our tendency is toward complication, distraction, and chaos rather than simplicity, contemplation, and order.” We often complicate choices with information overload. I did it just the other day when looking for somewhere to go to dinner while visiting my parents in Dallas. Between Google, Urbanspoon, Yelp, and more, my mind was overwhelmed by the choices. Similarly, when our minds are presented with too much information at once, they can simply shut off (163).
Because we can’t possibly retain all the information we’re bombarded with in a day, we scan. The skill of focused reading and quick scanning do not coexist well. Dyer warns us that “it’s possible to do both, but it is difficult to maintain both abilities” (164). What if we start scanning the Scripture instead of reading it? Somehow I don’t think that’s what the Psalmist meant by “meditate” in Ps. 1:2. We cannot simultaneously value the Word of God yet treat it like a tech blog.
If we value distraction and chaos, we don’t mind having face-to-face conversations interrupted. What are we saying by leaving your phone on or out while having a meeting or coffee with a friend? Essentially, we’re allowing ourselves to be interrupted and distracted. Subtly we say, “This conversation isn’t important enough for me to rule out the possibility of interruption.” Anyone else guilty of that? I am. Not only does distraction take a toll on our ability to concentrate on the task at hand, but it can damage our relationships as well.
Training the mind
As we look at the values our online connection holds and some of the negative consequences said values bring, we must work to counteract them. We must train our minds to remember and memorize information. We must train our minds and eyes not just to scan, but to read. We must train our minds to concentrate and focus and to resist the temptation of distraction. Just as our bodies, if left to idleness will atrophy, so will our minds. We are called to love our God with all our mind, so let us do that all the more. As a final exhortation, I’ll leave you with some of the author’s wise words,
“For those of us who want to cultivate a deep, spiritual life, we will have to be more selective in our information consumption and the media through which we consume it.”
[Next week, we conclude From the Garden to the City.]