Whenever there is new technology someone is going to warn us all that it is actually a terrible thing. This is most certainly true of the Internet and the massive explosion of information available to us through rapidly changing electronic media. I think that personal computers, smart phones and the Internet have greatly improved our lives. They’ve certainly made finding information much easier. I have the obvious concerns about how much “screen time” children have. How is that affecting them? And I am concerned about the effect on relationships new technology is having when I see two people sitting across the table from each other at a restaurant not talking to each other or even looking at each other, but glued to their phones. Still I’m grateful for how the new technology makes my life easier.
When I read this recently it definitely struck a chord with me. I recognize that my dependence on the Internet has changed my thinking and remembering in a couple of ways. Because the information so easily available and so quickly retrievable it has caused me to be less capable of actually reading something and remembering the argument. Because I know where I can find the information my brain does not think it necessary to actually store the information, rather it just stores the location of the information. The result of this is that I find it is not uncommon when discussing a topic for me to remember where I read something about the topic, but I can’t remember exactly what it said. Similarly the Internet has encouraged me to become an impatient reader. I find myself less willing to read through a long and difficult article or book. The tendency is to want to just skim it for the high points without really understanding deeply what is being said.
The fact is that the printing press did affect how people think and remember. When written materials were hard to come by people used their memories a great deal more than we do now. It was quite common for people in Jesus’ day to have committed to memory far more Scripture than we typically would. That’s because their brains had to adapt to remembering without having something written down. The fact that the Internet is changing how we think and remember is not the end of the world. We seem to do just fine today even though we are not as adept at storing information in our memories as people might have been millennia ago. Somehow we get along just fine. My guess is that the Internet will indeed change the way we access information and store it in our memories and some of those effects will not be good. Nevertheless we will survive.
However, this has caused me to become aware of the fact that my use of the Internet is affecting me this way. That is something that I would like to resist. I do not want to be a shallow thinker. I do not want to just remember where something is in God’s word, I want to remember what God’s word says. I don’t want to just skim a book, especially the word of God, for the highlights, but to actually understand what it says. I am certainly not going to forgo using the Internet. But this reminds me that I do want to retain the ability to read deeply, think deeply and remember. This will require some discipline. It will require that I intentionally choose to read some things that are longer and more closely reasoned than your average blog. It will require that when I read something I read to understand it well enough that I could restate it in my own words. And it will require that I exercise the discipline of committing God’s word to my memory.