The Next Story

From an email I sent

I’ll start this with a quote:

Why expend effort in getting the Bible in my heart and mind, if I already have it in my pocket?

Thus writes Tim Challies in his latest book The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (audiobook here).

This is not another Luddite urging us to smash our smartphones and go live in the woods. Challies is one of the most read (and sound) evangelical writers and bloggers, an editor, and an admitted technophile. And it’s because of his in-depth knowledge and understanding of our rapidly-changing digital era that he can offer some profound insights about its effect on us, our brains, our relationships, our communities and – above all – our Christian life.

It’s 2011, and there’s no going back. The way we live, learn, connect with other people and spend our leisure is increasingly invested with some form of technology. Trying to kick against the tide is pointless and – according to Challies – not necessarily biblical either.

Following an impressively researched introduction to the how and the when, The Next Story moves seamlessly into the actual effects that technology is having on us. As we are perennially one click or screen tap away from information overload, we would be very naive to think that such affluence has left us unaffected.

Our minds function differently: we’ve moved from the Print-mind to the Visual-mind. The Image rules supreme. Our actual brains are being physically re-wired to accommodate a new mode of function (it’s called long-term potentiation/depression – ask me if you’re interested). Consequently, our way of learning and thinking has changed. We don’t need to know any more – we just need to know how to find information. Our attention spans are severely reduced (notice the short paragraphs in this email? They actually train you for this).

Our daily routines centre around Facebook, Twitter, emails, text messages and other social networking formats, chewing into face-to-face time with each other. Online community is replacing real community, just as hard drives and servers are replacing brains. The Web is no longer a substitute for the mind – it has become a replacement for it.

And guess what? It’s been almost twenty years. There are people today who never knew a different world. People who have never written a letter, done research in a library or even read a whole book. People for whom interacting with others through a screen is the norm.

And yet, technology is a gift from God. He has blessed us with the ability to have a digital explosion. And there are many benefits in being able to do with Wikipedia in a second what used to take days and weeks before. In being able to keep up with loved ones despite the distance. Even crowd-sourcing is beneficial in certain contexts.

How are we then to live as Christians in this era? Obviously with a discerning approach to technology and with a clear understanding of what it’s doing to us. How can we use it to better the work of the Kingdom? Are we aware of how it’s changed the concept of privacy and of how others view us? How does it affect our brotherly fellowship? Is an online church a substitute or a replacement for a real one? What are we letting into our minds, our hearts and our souls? Are we multitasking or just “task-switching” all the time? Is our use of technology bringing us closer to God or creating/encouraging idolatry? Is it promoting a deep or a shallow Christian life?

Informative, convicting and encouraging, I recommend The Next Story wholeheartedly. And hey – it’s available on Kindle too.

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