Smart Phones and Reading Habits

Jared Longshore
| April 24, 2018

“I know I really need to scroll through Facebook, but it is just so much easier to meditate on the Bible.” Said no one ever. Thinking deeply upon Scripture requires discipline. Mindlessly ingesting breaking news, tweets, and posts requires wifi and thumbs.

I’ve mentioned before that the we and our smart phones are like the neighborhood boys with the 4th of July fireworks. They could light up the night sky commemorating something worth remembering. Or, they could burn down the neighborhood. When it comes to our smart phones and our reading habits, we want to make sure those bottle rockets are pointed in the right direction.

The potential upside is the access we now have to great books and discerning readers. This access simply could not have been dreamed of only a short time ago. But the challenge before us is the great amount of self-control required to read well in the digital age. This is no walk in the park since “we have been initiated into a kind of entertainment-convenience that makes books feel downright outdated, inconvenient, and far too demanding” (79).

Given the endless amount of words we can now read on the internet, and the speed at which they come upon us, Nicholas Carr recalled, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words, now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski” (The Shallows, 7). So, “the literacy problem we face today is not illiteracybut aliteracy, a digital skimming that is simply an attempt to keep up with a deluge of information coming through our phones rather than slowing down and soaking up what is most important” (85).

Neil Postman is insightful here–“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism” (Amusing Ourselves to Death vii).

The amount of content can be challenging. But Reinke identifies the heart of the problem by lamenting the “nutritional deficiency” of the content so regularly ingested online–“Breaking news, tabloid gossip, viral memes, and the latest controversies in sports, politics, and entertainment all draw us to our phones as if they were deep-fried Twinkies held out on sticks at the state fair” (146).

You know the problem with deep-fried Twinkies at the state fair? Yeah, you know the problem with deep-fried Twinkies at the state fair.

So if you’re scrolling yourself through Augustine’s Confessions, Newton, and Solomon’s Proverbs, then scroll on. But be honest with yourself if you’re just scrolling yourself into oblivion. That fried cream and sugar may be sweet on the way down, but prepare for the bellyache.

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