Let’s be honest – the Internet is something like an unstoppable force. It provides us access to mountains and mountains of information like no other time in history; it allows things to be quicker and easier than ever (online bill pay, ordering food); it allows us access to others’ thoughts and lets us share our own (Twitter, FB, blogs); and the Internet is showing no signs of slowing down.
So how has it affected you? Has it made you more impatient when things don’t happen instantly? It has me. Has it made your attention span a lot shorter? I’m guilty. Maybe most importantly (and the subject of this post), how has the Internet affected your reading and study habits?
Can you identify with Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains?
My concentration starts to drift after a page or two (of reading). I get fidgety, lose the thread, and begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
What about Philip Davis, a doctoral student of communication at Cornell University?
I read a lot – or at least I should be reading a lot – only I don’t. I skim. I scroll. I have very little patience for long, drawn-out, nuanced arguments, even though I accuse others of painting the world too simply.
While there are many redemptive things about the Internet, there seems to be one giant negative side effect – it is contributing to the rapid atrophy of our capacity and desire for substantive reading, learning, and studying.
But let’s also be honest – the Bible is something like an immovable object. It is God’s word breathed out to us about who He is and what He is up to in the world. And because of this, the Bible has and always will have something to say about the current issues of our day, including the “unstoppable force” of the internet. Take for instance, Luke 2:52:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.
Stop. Read that again. In one of the great mysteries that you and I won’t ever fully wrap our minds around, when Jesus lived on the earth he was fully God and fully man. He had to read and study the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament (can you imagine Jesus growing up in a hot dusty house, sitting down and reading and memorizing Scripture?); he had to learn things like the family carpentry business and the history of his people. And since you and I are called to become more like Christ every day (Rom. 8:29), we too are commanded to increase in wisdom and stature, which is not limited to but definitely includes substantive reading, learning, and studying.
Do you feel the tension? The unstoppable force has met the immovable object. On the one hand our attention spans are shortening and our overall apathy towards reading, learning, and studying is increasing. But on the other hand, God has called us to flourish by reading and meditating on his word, which is becoming harder and harder to do.
In the hopes that you and I don’t simply sit back and let our minds shrivel to the size of a raisin, the following are just a few ways we can live out God’s call to flourish in our ability to substantively read, learn, and study.
1. Pray pray pray. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Perhaps you need to repent of the ways you desire to take the easiest path possible when it comes to studying. Maybe you ask God to help you grow in your ability and desire to learn and read and grow. If you have no desire to, maybe you need to ask God to give you a heart that wants to want that.
2. Actively think about how you are reading. I know it might seem weird and unnatural, but every once in awhile stop to analyze and evaluate how you are reading, what you are reading, why you are reading what you’re reading, and if you are actually learning what you’re reading.
3. Make time for the word. Set aside twenty or thirty minutes, find a quiet place, “unplug” by closing the laptop and physically parting from the cell phone, and commit to reading the Bible. Change will not happen instantly, but over time this process (like anything else) will become more natural, and God will increase your wisdom.
4. Read biographies. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Perhaps over fall or Christmas break you pick up a biography on C.S. Lewis, or William Wilberforce, or any other hero of the faith (they don’t just have to be people inside the church either – see Steve Jobs’ biography).
While the Internet might be contributing to the rapid atrophy of our capacity and desire to read, learn, and study, God has plans to redeem and restore it. Substantive reading, learning, and studying is a vehicle God uses to conform us more and more to the image of Christ, which, while not always easy, will be the most satisfying path you and I can take. Praise God that he is both the Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object!