Media Monday: "The Shallows"

Over the last three years, I have read a lot of very interesting books and articles in my quest to get my master’s degree. The result is that I have fed my nerdiness. While trying to ease my way back into studying and reading things related to my field so that I can get back on track toward finishing my thesis (and consequently, my degree), I picked up The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

It’s a book I received for Christmas in 2010, which I started and then put aside with all of my field-related studies when Christopher got hurt and we bought/started renovating our home. I picked it up again over spring break and finished reading it shortly after returning home. I was blown away, and immediately started synthesizing the book’s content.

The premise pertains to how the Internet is completely changing how our brains work, particularly with regard to how we remember things and how we engage with life. Carr deftly describes how our cognitive functioning is interacting with the change in how and where we gather our information:

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas. With the Net, we face many information fuacets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source. (pp. 124-125)

Carr details how this change has happened in his own habits – how he writes, reads, works – and contrasts it with historical perspectives and understandings of the brain (something he does really well in The Big Switch, his first book). Breadth of knowledge may be increasing, but there are signs pointing to a decrease in depth of knowledge (hence, Carr’s title).

The book is a great read, engaging and thoughtful. It was even a Pulitzer finalist. These are reasons I encourage you to pick it up yourself and give it a read. I will, however, share one of the most fascinating sections from my trip through its pages:

It’s not hard to see why books have been slow to make the leap into the digital age. There’s not a whole lot of difference between a computer monitor and a television screen, and the sounds coming from speakers hit your ears in pretty much the same way whether they’re being transmitted through a computer or a radio. But as a device for reading, the book retains some compelling advantages over the computer. You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die. (pp. 99-100)

Now, it is certainly no secret that I love books, or even that I love real, printed ones. But a lot of what Carr relates about how the format of the book has changed as it has made its way into interactive platforms is mind-boggling to me. It ceases to be just reading. We lose our ability to simply be lost in whatever it is that we’re reading.

Sure, we all know that it can be easy to lose one’s train of thought while reading a book, but you realize it when you come to recognize you don’t have a clue what is happening on the page and either put it down for a time when you can concentrate or get back on track. With a lot of electronic and interactive book platforms, there are more than our own trains of thought going while we read:

Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, recently wrote about her experience using a Kindle to read the Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby. Her story underscores Johnson’s fears: “Although mildly disorienting at first, I quickly adjusted to the Kindle’s screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons. Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer. Distractions abounded. I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, ‘Mugby Junction.’ Twenty minutes later I still hadn’t returned to my reading of Nickleby on the Kindle.”

When we step outside of the traditional book platform, we step into a world filled with rabbit trails. They all lead to information of some sort or another, but is it good information? Is it actually leading to a depth of knowledge, a depth of understanding? Do we actually understand the book better?

These are all good questions, and I think Carr has some good thoughts on how our brains are changing with our constant and overflowing influx of information and stimuli. If you want to read it, I recommend a paper copy. Might even let you borrow mine.

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Media Monday: Reassessing Facebook

While I am going to start pulling together some thoughts on media to post here (that whole trying-to-start-finishing-my-thesis thing), here’s a little something to kick it all off: My latest post over at the Summitview blog, which is an update of my original I’m-leaving-Facebook post from 2010.

You can find the permalink for the blog post here: http://summitview.com/blog/entryid/30/two-years-sober-why-i-left-facebook-and-haven-t-gone-back

Happy reading!

Why I’m leaving Facebook after 7 years as a user…

There was once a time that Facebook was simple, and so (to be honest) was my life. I went to classes and came home, seeing all the people I really knew in the dorms, catching up with them at dinner, and enjoying late night chats in the lounges. The few people I didn’t see regularly, I began to keep up with on “the Face”, which gave me a little bit of insight to their lives when I gave them a phone call and got caught up that way.

Life’s now a little more complex, however, and so has become my Facebook habit.

Now, I’ve never gotten into the games. When I first saw that my father had planted corn (in Farmville, as I later found out), I was really confused because my parents’ neighborhood won’t let them plant anything edible. And when I tried to get into playing Scrabble with the family, I would forget to check on the game and ended up force-forfeiting almost every one I ever tried to play.

So, obviously, I’m not talking about that.

What has gotten quite absurdly out of control has been my need to know every tidbit about every person that I both do and do not hang out with on a daily basis. It wouldn’t be so bad if I actually took the time to seek out each individual to see how he or she was doing, but the fact that it is so readily supplied and I do not need to initiate any type of communication (or relationship), is ridiculous. No wonder I feel cut off from people – almost every relationship is mediated and nothing is genuine.

So, why now?

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while. It is nothing new in the back recesses of my mind, though perhaps not purely in this light. My original stance was going to be for privacy, but Facebook fixed some things and that’s not really a hill I wanted to die on.

This, however is:

Do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. [1 Samuel 12:21]

Those that cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. [Jonah 2:8]

When we put it plainly like this – as a direct choice between God and our stuff – most of us hope we would choose God. But we need to realize that how we spend our time, what our money goes toward, and where we will invest our energy is equivalent to choosing God or rejecting Him. How could we think for even a second that something on this puny little earth compares to the Creator and Sustainer and Savior of it all? [Francis Chan, Crazy Love]

Now, I don’t want to say that Facebook is entirely empty or without value – it certainly can be useful when handled with the correct heart. I simply do not currently have that heart.

Facebook can be a great communication tool, but I am not using it as such. It can be a great way to keep in touch with old friends at various distances, but I often find discouragement, heartache, and even bitterness in what appears in my News Feed.

My heart is not centered heavily on Christ right now – and I’m finally seeing that to be the root of the problem. I need Christ, but I do not see my need for Him.

And this must change.

In the next few months, I’m hoping to seek the stripping away of “worthless idols” – those things that are empty, that do not “profit or deliver” me to the foot of the cross. I want to choose my Creator over the created things that He has so graciously given me. I want to know again the desire to sit at His feet and be fully known by Him. I want to boldly come before the throne of grace – and, right now, I do not remember what that looks like.

Therefore, the first thing to go is Facebook. More will certainly follow, though it will certainly be a process that requires honesty with myself where (especially) my media use is concerned. Only as things are stripped away will I see what needs to go next.

My life has become a constant refrain of, “If only I get to keep (fill in the blank)… (fill in the blank).” We were created for so much more – if there is “no greater loss” than to lose myself in the One who was broken and died on a cross so that He could conquer death and my sin in His resurrection, then I need to change how I live, for my life does not currently reflect this.

On September 15th, I will pull the plug on my Facebook account. Until then, I’ll be trying to gather as much contact information as I can so that I might possibly cultivate relationships again, rather than seeing my reading of status updates for people I know as “relationships”.

Regardless, you can still get ahold of me here, at my e-mail address, akatereynolds[at]yahoo.com, on Twitter [akatereynolds] or by telephone.

Listening to: Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
Reading: Jan Karon, In This Mountain [among other things]

On Understanding the Spirit’s Grief

There is no possible reason that I should still be awake. I’m here, in the middle of Montana (Belgrade, to be exact, which is just outside of Bozeman), in the middle of the night, when we will be getting up and packing up in about six hours, and I’m wide awake.

Maybe it’s the five episodes of Scrubs… maybe not.

So I’m listening to my dear husband snore as he sleeps soundly after a day of skiing and tension, and I can’t even begin to describe how blessed I am to be here, as difficult as it at times.

It’s my first “time off” since we got married. Granted, that may not mean a lot to most people. Many people have nights and weekends to kick back and relax and process.

I feel like I haven’t processed in months.

Every time I “get” to sit down, there is something else to think about, something else that grabs my attention or fuels my worries. The thank you notes from our wedding are still not done and, due to our packing mess, have gone MIA. We’re moving the day after we get back from this trip to Montana (a day that I still have to work). We’re never home on the weekends. I have band practice. I desire to meet more with the women on our team, but fail to have the time to show them how much they are loved.

Plus, there’s the whole “being married” thing, which takes work and time – and is perhaps God’s biggest blessing for my human existence outside of His grace covering my sin and His giving me life in the first place.

There is never enough time. I feel like a horrid wife, daughter, sister, friend, employee. I hate short conversations on the phone that really should last hours but end up being awkward because there are only a few minutes to spare, so I avoid them whenever possible. The people I love deserve so much more than that.

But instead, they get nothing.

I don’t exercise. We rarely eat at home anymore. I haven’t played guitar or piano (excluding band stuff) for months.

I am finally processing what God has been teaching me through this whole semester: the Spirit grieves.

Perhaps this seems most random to you – it would seem so to me if it came from any other source. But in the midst of learning that there is truth and there are lies, something has changed deep within me.

In the midst of my unfaithfulness in everyday life, God is still gracious, but the Spirit is grieved. I fail to image forth Christ in this. Even the very purpose for which I was created I cannot do as I ought.

But I am so very grateful that there is a God who is, who always has been, and who always will be completely and fully sovereign.

I am so very grateful that I do not have free will. I am overjoyed that I am under authority, that I am under a standard, that I am not my own – for all that I am has been crucified with Christ, that I might live anew in Him!

We saw “The Golden Compass” today. On movie criteria alone, it wasn’t really good. It was a little convoluted and I had difficulty understanding how one scene went to the next (it went so fast!), and some things were never really made clear.

I wouldn’t recommend it, and our children will never see it. If someone gives us a copy, I will burn it. Seriously.

But that isn’t really the point. And I’m going to try to not rant as much as I really want to.

The point is that, as the Truth Project points out, we are in the midst of a battle of worldviews, and what the world tells us will be diametrically opposed to what Christ tells us.

The film, sadly, is not rooted in truth, but rather in what the world tells us. It begins on the premise that before anything known ever existed, there was “dust” – which also causes chaos and instability in people as they grow.

In the dimension of our world that we are shown in the story, people walk around with their souls, named “daemons” outside of their bodies. One of the main plots is that the institutional Majesterium is trying to find a way to separate people from their souls. And a battle of free will versus sovereignty begins.

There are several things that added up for me as I sat and viewed this “fantastical masterpiece”: One underlying message is that “from dust we came” and “to dust we return.” Another is that there is no sovereign being who should be able to control us – we should let our wild “daemons” run free in defiance of the institution. And yet a third is that we cannot know truth in and of ourselves – we need an outside force to tell us what is “true.”

And the Spirit inside of me grieved.

We are made in the image of God. We are not dust, and men do not merely become dust when they die. They face judgement. Real judgement with a real authority who set a holy standard that we have failed to keep because we fell.

God is not responsible for our sin. And we deserve nothing. Absolutely nothing. He is not a tyrant who chooses some to go to hell and others to join Him in heaven. His desire is that none would perish – not a single one.

We violated His standard and yet, out of love, He has let us live and has provided a way of reconciliation to Him by the cross borne by Jesus Christ. This isn’t a monarchy where peasants pay tribute in exchange for just treatment – we have nothing to even offer, and yet He has given us everything in Jesus Christ. Everything!

Without God, there exists no purpose – there is no reason for living! If it is dust that we come from, then we truly have no free will. All we are doing is simply the bidding of the universe – we are just part of a clockwork. (I’d explain this more, but it is one o’clock in the morning, after all). Why do we run from the thought that there is a sovereign Lord who keeps watch over us? Why do we fear not having our “independence”?

I am so grateful that I do not need to worry over myself. And there is no such thing as “free will” as we think we understand it. I don’t think any of us would really like it that much if we really saw what that looked like.

For in possessing “freedom of the will” we suspect we will know true “freedom”. I have known what it is like to live by “my own rules” and it’s awful. I have known what it is to live by legalism and it’s awful.

And I know what it is to live under grace, to live in responsibility over my own sin and understand the mercy that covers me in any good thing that comes forth from my being – and it is only there, in God’s hands, that I have known true “liberty.”

How sad it is that the third thing I realized is actually true, though strangely warped in this particular film.

We cannot know truth in and of ourselves. But neither can the “dust” be an honest agent of truth.

But the Spirit of Truth dwells in us. He testifies to the truth. When the truth is not spoken, He grieves.

Which is why I am not offended by the movie. Surprising, no?

But that’s where the semester-long lesson comes in. I am not offended for the cross of Christ, but I am grieved at its slander.

Several times in the last few months, I have been afraid of sharing truth with women on my team and with others. Choosing to speak truth instead of trying to brush over things with “easy” answers has been a long and painful process that has resulted in many tears, but never offense. After the first few encounters, I began asking why I was not personally offended when fellow believers would get angry at me or rail on for an hour about their opinion on something or about how they were being treated.

And the answer came simply: it was not me that was offending. It was truth.

I can always stand on truth. Always.

It makes me bolder, something I have struggled with for years, and I can barely explain it except that there is a God, He is fully sovereign, and He came that the “truth might set us free.”

How many times I have seen chains lifted this semester! How many times I have sung praise to God for what He is doing in so many lives by exposing them to truth!

We buy so many lies as a culture, myself included. It is easy to “just try to fit in” and go with the flow.

But we are called to so much more than that! We are called to stand firm on the truth and fight for it – not for ourselves or because God “needs” our help (never!), but because we are bearing the image of God and for that reason, we must reflect His truthful nature.

I am not ashamed to serve a sovereign God. He is good, and I would have it no other way.

There were certainly more thoughts about the film that I won’t share. I’ve ranted enough for one evening (or morning).

If I haven’t spoken to you recently, know that I love you and wish you a “Merry Christmas!” with the greatest enthusiasm. Perhaps I’ll write more about the politics of Christmas (especially in Fort Collins) some other time. Until then, think on the depths of what it means that we celebrate Christmas-

God has given us a Savior! Oh, let us praise the Lord of Hosts! He is ever faithful and good.

I do suppose the time has come for me to now go to bed. And, so, I bid you ‘Good night!’