Digital Technology: Its Use and Abuse

E-Books

  The following is excerpted from an excellent article entitled The Dumbest Generation: Tech-Savvy, But Unable to Think, in the March 2010 issue of The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor:[6]

 “Defenders of the electronic society point out that tech-savvy people do read online.  They say it’s just a different medium than books and other ‘obsolete’ devices such as newspapers and magazines.  Different for sure, but not necessarily better.

  “It can be a maze of flashing images designed for visual appeal over substance.  Concentrating on one item or article is strongly discouraged.  ‘Surfers’ may gaze over headlines on several topics while also multitasking on their iPhones or other devices.  The medium allows for a virtually unlimited amount of images and factoids at the expense of depth and focus.

  “Writers who once handled magazine assignments and books have to drastically change their style for online audiences.  Word counts usually have to be cut to the bone.  Facts are pruned to the bare minimum, while creative literary nuances and deep thinking are strongly discouraged.

  “So how do authors make up for such emaciated content?  Photos and color – the more, the better – and other eye candy take the place of in-depth writing and thought….

  “While many books are available via Kindle and online, new technology discourages that kind of reading.  Books are meant to be absorbed at a pace that allows for thinking and reflecting on the content.  The fidgety style and ever-present special effects found on computers can be incompatible with the quiet and calm mindset needed to enjoy traditional reading.”

  The inability to focus and concentrate for any length of time on one subject, to read and study it carefully, is all too evident everywhere.  One sees the symptoms of it when one tries to hold a decent conversation with people these days.  They simply cannot concentrate; they cannot focus.  They have sound-bite concentration spans.  Their minds constantly flip from one subject to another.  Their eyes betray their minds: they are never still, they flit from one object to another and take nothing in.  They glaze over when anything lasts longer than a few minutes, and they are very easily distracted by every little thing.  This is just the symptom of a generation addicted to TV, surfing the net, smartphones, scanning rapidly over bright pictures and eye-catching headlines but never actually stopping to properly take something in, something worthwhile, and think about it. 

  Others have noted the same dangers.  Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, stated that reading on the internet fundamentally changes how our brains are used.  “Facing a torrent of text, photos, video, music and links to other web pages, combined with incessant interruptions from text messages, e-mails, Facebook updates, Tweets, blogs and RSS feeds, our minds have become used to skimming, browsing and scanning information…. now most of us infrequently read books, long essays, or articles that would help us focus, concentrate and be introspective and contemplative, Carr writes.  He says we are becoming more like librarians – able to find information quickly and discern the best nuggets – than scholars who digest and interpret information.  That lack of focus hinders our long-term memory, leading many of us to feel distracted, he said.”  And: “‘What we are losing is a whole other set of mental skills, the ones that require not the shifting of our focus but the maintaining of our focus,’ Carr said.  ‘Contemplation, introspection, reflection – there is no space or time for those on the Internet.’”  “If writers cater to a society that is chronically distracted, they will inevitably eschew writing complex arguments that require sustained attention and instead write in pithy, bite-sized bits of information, Carr predicts.”[7]

  Carr said people should slow down, turn off the internet, and practise the skills of contemplation, introspection and reflection.  “‘It is pretty clear from the brain science that if you don’t exercise particular cognitive skills, you are going to lose them,’ he said.  ‘If you are constantly distracted, you are not going to think in the same way that you would think if you paid attention.’”

  We use e-books.  They have a place.  In addition to publishing my own books in the good old-fashioned way, they are also available as e-books.  We also upload all our articles to our website.  But we will not cater to a generation of click-happy, concentration-impaired computer-cowboys who want everything in bright colours, with lots of pictures and very little substance.  Those who truly love the Lord and His Word will seek to train themselves to read, to ponder, to think, and to prayerfully meditate on what they read.  We strongly encourage people to either print the articles out and read them slowly and carefully, without other distractions; or if they are read online, to train themselves to focus solely on the article at hand, reading it from beginning to end, without being sidetracked to other things.  And if you are reading an e-book, then read it: start at the beginning, take your time, read it properly, ponder what you read, think, and train yourself to avoid distractions.  

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