The Internet and Our Brains

Product DetailsThis is a book worth reading if you want to learn the how the internet affects our thinking: Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  I’m not quite finished with it, so I’ll reserve all my comments for later.  Here’s a helpful quote to give you an idea of the contents.

“…In the long run a medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act.  As our window onto the world, and onto ourselves, a popular medium molds what we see and how we see it – and eventually, if we use it enough, it changes who we are, as individuals and as a society.  ‘The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts,’ wrote [Marshall] McLuhan.  Rather, they alter ‘patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance.’  [McLuhan] exaggerates to make his point, but the point stands.  Media work their magic, or their mischief, on the nervous system itself.”

“Our focus on a medium’s content can blind us to these deep effects.  We’re too busy being dazzled or disturbed by the programming to notice what’s going on inside our heads.  In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn’t matter.  It’s not how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves.  The implication, comforting in its hubris, is that we’re in control.  The technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside.”

“…The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences.  It is so much our servant than it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master” (p. 3-4).

When it comes to Christian ethics and technology, this is a good book to put on your list (even though it’s not written from a Christian perspective).  I’ve mentioned it here before, but by way of reminder, Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High-Tech Heart is also a must-have in the area of technology and Christian ethics.  (FYI, Schultze’s book is written from a Christian perspective.)  I believe all Christians need to think through the goods and bads of technology; these are two books to help in this area.

shane lems

Worship and the Technology Bandwagon

I’m amazed and enthralled by modern technological advances.  I used to read Popular Mechanics with audible sounds of astonishment.  The first time I played around on my Ipod 4th Gen my wife rolled her eyes because I was practically prancing around the room in awe.  However, I’m also in full agreement (as I noted here before) with Quentin Schultze’s counsel to take a wise perspective on technology: use it with moderation and be skeptical of its claims.  Here’s a paragraph from Habits of the High Tech Heart that I like. 

“Faddish technological endeavors nearly always interfere with genuine progress.  When we define progress in purely technological terms, we compel ourselves to use the latest technology even when it might not be wise or appropriate.  For instance, many college teachers feel compelled to use online student discussion software to transform their teaching notes into classroom presentations in darkened classrooms, to require students to visit a class Web site every day, or even to encourage students to take lecture and discussion notes on computers rather than in paper notebooks.”

It is amazing how much has already changed since Schultz wrote this in 2002.  It is no longer simply college teachers using Powerpoint and websites; it is elementary school teachers using Ipods, earbuds, and texting, among other things.  I just read a piece in the paper how some 2nd grade class is doing math lessons on the Ipod because (they argued) kids learn more from it than from a monotone teacher lecturing on numbers.  They learn more quickly with games: if you kill 4 aliens in level one and 5 aliens in level two, how many aliens did you kill in all?  Schultze continues this thought.

“Similarly, churches install video projectors in order to get the ‘full benefit’ of computer-presentation technology, sometimes resulting in entertainment-style worship services laced with slick slide shows, video clips, multimedia bulletin announcements, and dynamic sermon outlines.  These kind of technological practices often distract a congregation from the spoken message, fragment the liturgical flow, and destroy the solemnity of worship – all in the name of progress.  Our knowledge of the existence of technology, coupled with our desire to be progressive and effective, compels us to use it.  When the promises of technique seduce us, however, responsibility usually eludes us” (p. 97).

Well said.  Just like there are limits to science, so there are limits to technology.  Is it possible that some technology, when it comes to learning, is more harmful than helpful?  Is teaching a 10-year-old how to divide using hours of video games beneficial in the long run?  Will he cultivate the virtue of careful listening (along with other virtues) using earbuds and a video game? 

Even more seriously, what happens when you mix trivial entertainment with the deepest realities of life?  What are the long-term effects of discussing Scripture  (serious, deep, and spiritual things) using movie clips (entertaining, trivial, superficial things) to make it more meaningful on Sunday morning?  Will we harm Christian spirituality by making church entertaining?  What about kids who grow up with movie-laced “sermons?”  How will it affect their Christian life in the long run? 

I’d argue – based on the Regulative Principle of Worship (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1 and Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 96) - that we should not use movies and such in worship.  But based on Schultze’s helpful notes, I’d also argue against movies and such in worship from a practical point of view: this type of technology is more harmful than helpful when it comes to Christian worship and spirituality. 

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Book Giveaway!

This is a first on the Reformed Reader (and probably the last!): we’re giving a book away.  I ended up with an extra (used) copy of Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), so I’m going to simply give it away via this blog.

Here’s the deal.  First, if you want to enter this giveaway, we want you to read the book if you win it.  We won’t make you sign a ‘covenant,’ but please actually read it if you get it – and if you blog on it, even better!  We’ll link you if you do a blog post or two on the book.

Second, to find out about the book – and to see if you really want it or not – check out the PDF summary here (and by clicking this WTS blog partners link, you’ll help fund our pastoral library).

Third, no whining.  This is a totally free book with no real strings attached.  It is used, and I’ll send it via media mail in the next week or two when I get time.  If it gets lost or damaged, sorry, but I cannot replace it.

HOW do you enter?  Email us – reformedreader@gmail.com, and briefly answer this question: Why do you want to read this book?  The 15th person to answer this question by email will get the book.

Again, we probably won’t do this again, so thanks for your patience (and good humor).  If you’re still interested in the book, you can also check out a post I (shane) did on it awhile back.

Email away!

shane (and andrew)

Christian Virtue and Technology

  Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) was a great summer read for me.  To summarize, Schultze argues that though all technology isn’t bad per se, we have to use it with care so it doesn’t end up using us.  Most of us in countries with all kinds of electronic technology pouring into stores and living rooms don’t give a second thought to new technology.  But Schultze calls the reader to be wise, moderate, discerning, and careful when using technology.  Does a certain technology emphasize the trivial things in life or the profound and meaningful?  What are the long-term effects of using this technology?  Will it help or hurt face to face personal interaction and community?  What virtues does it cultivate or impede? 

For example (and this is worth pondering), Schultze wonders why we want a laptop for every classroom child, or why we want to bring the internet to “less fortunate” countries, as if laptops and the internet are the answers to so many problems.  Here are a few other words from Schultze that I liked.

“The benefits of information technologies depend on how responsibly we understand, develop, and employ them in the service of venerable notions of the meaning and purpose of life” (17).

“We ought to face the fact that our cyber-innovations today are running far ahead of our moral sensibilities.  As masters of technique, we imagine quick, efficient solutions to all individual and social problems.  We assume that all we need is more technology, such as access to larger databases and greater messaging capacity.  But if we examine the degree of immorality and incivility online, we cannot help but see the folly of cyber-hopes” (19).

“Newer communication technologies paradoxically are making it more difficult for us to know each other well and to know anything for certain.  We are especially losing any sense of moral purpose in our messaging.  An overdependence on messaging reduces human communication to instrumental means of satisfying our own immediate desires” (49).

There are a lot of other great parts to this book as well.  I do agree that we’ve got to work harder on utilizing technology for the good, contemplating the whole “means/ends” side of it.  To summarize it in theological terms, we should take serious care only to utilize technologies that contribute to our growth in godliness (sanctification), not ones that stifle it.

shane lems