It’s been a busy couple of weeks recently, in church and family life, with little opportunity to blog or reflect, but I thought it was worth sharing a particularly thought-provoking piece by Jonathan Freedland in yesterday’s Guardian, which you can read here. His column reflects on the impact of digital technology on the depth of what we know and share. There’s little need to study facts or information and come to our conclusions, when information is invariably one click away (a trend brilliantly summed up by Stephen Colbert’s concept of ‘truthiness’), and we’ve traded in forms of communication like letter writing, for emails, texts and social networks. The result is that we share our lives with far more people than ever before, but often on a far more superficial level.
I was particularly struck by Freedland’s comment on how tools like Twitter have reduced the time that we take to process and reflect on significant events. A news story trends quickly, inspiring a flurry of hashtagged comment and analysis which quickly evaporates, as the news cycle moves on to the next big event.
Perhaps most disconcerting of all is a closing observation by the American intellectual Leon Wieseltier, that the very skill of reading itself is under threat, as we become addicted to acquiring, commenting and then discarding information at an ever increasing speed.
What are the implications of these trends for discipleship? How do we embrace the benefits of the digital age, whilst also forming habits that are intentionally different in key ways?
Perhaps we can begin with a love for Scripture which plays itself out in a deliberate slowing down of our reading speed. The Psalmist famously wrote (119:11), ‘I treasure your word in my heart,’ which suggests a ponderous, reflective process of of pausing and lingering over words. We don’t encourage people to read Dickens or Shakespeare in a year, but we do think that’s a good thing to do with the Bible. I understand the desire to help people acquire an overview of the whole biblical story, but it’s not a text which works well with speed-reading: take it a verse at a time, a parable at a time, recognise that you’re engaged in the task of a lifetime.
And if there’s a part of the story you’ve not yet read, why is that a problem when you worship God and serve him in a community with someone who has? Perhaps a bigger risk than thinking the Bible is a book to be read in a hurry is the idea that it’s a book to be read on our own. We read it, not with the commentary of disembodied tweets, but with the perspectives of people we’re on a long journey with, and whose joys and disappointments we share.