The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital ExplosionThe Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Next Story” by Tim Challies

Tim Challies is a popular blogger and knows the digital world. This book helps us think carefully about ourselves as we email, text, blog and surf the web. I really enjoyed it. Ironically (full disclosure, here), I listened to the whole thing… on my iPhone.

The digital world is a real and significant change. We store and process information very differently than 30 years ago. Publishing and reading patterns have changed because things are now digital. Publishing can be instant, instead of requiring time and editing. We now assume we can instantly connect with anyone anytime, which was unheard of 40 years ago.

The digital world makes us more momentary. A three day old email is irrelevant. A three hour old Facebook status or text is useless. We care less about and pursue less, things that last, chasing instead after what is new. As the digitial revolution has progressed, the pace of what is new has quickened. As we communicate more and more, the content gets more and more inane. (“Where are you?” “Hey.” “Ltr.”)

The digital world distracts us. Keeping up with all of this data consumes us. We go from phone messages, to text messages, email, blogs, facebook, news sites, and then start all over again. If we’re honest, we usually welcome this distraction from our work or out of boredom. But this rat race leaves behind the harder pursuit of more rewarding content (books, conversations, etc.). The average expected length of a piece of reading has gone from a newspaper page to a tweet. I’m keeping these sentences and paragraphs short on purpose. Blog writing advice is to keep it short, with short paragraphs, realizing your writing will be scanned, not read.

The digital world reveals our priorities. People want to be connected. So badly that they will go to great lengths. We have to have a phone with a text plan, because if we don’t we can’t really be friends with certain people. And the sad part is, that’s true. We also like putting most of our time to not very helpful things. We are amusing ourselves to death with Youtube instead of television.

The digital world dehumanizes us. Google’s success has come from turning our searches into results mathematical formulas, from turning internet usage data into information that can be used to advertise to interested internet users. We’d rather text than talk. Easier. Less bothersome to texter and textee. No small talk or social courtesies needed. We’d rather leave a message or email than talk on the phone. We defriend with a hardly a thought. This cuts against the grain of 2 John 12 and 3 John 13-14.

What to do?
Think through what information you really need to process. We are overloaded and much of it is not needed. Cut the fat. Unsubscribe.

Try a digital fast. No computer or phone or ipad or other device for 24 hours. 3 days. 1 week. Feel the withdrawal set in. Re-learn the difference between what you THINK you need to know, and what you REALLY need to know.

But don’t go Luddite. You don’t have to be Wendell Berry, clacking away on a typewriter, or only writing by hand and using a cord phone. This isn’t the answer. It certainly changes a person, but denying the digital revolution isn’t the answer, long term.

Thoughtful use is the answer. Think through what you need to communicate to others and how you should do that. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should. Think through the purpose of the newest gadget before you rush to get it.

Now that you’ve scanned this article, commit to reading something longer and more substantive before the day is out. If you need a concrete idea, I’d suggest a whole book of the Bible, or a Shakespeare play. See how far you can get before distraction sets in…

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