I have been doing radio interviews for The Wired Soul these past couple of weeks and have to say I’ve grown pretty adept at explaining the things the internet is doing to our brains and how it affects our souls. But every time I rattle off the list, one thing in particular troubles me most, which is that digital life is robbing us of the capacity to think deeply—not just about God, but about anything.
I thought about this when I read an article in the NY Times by Teddy Wayne called “The End of Reflection.” He begins by talking about how there was a time when life offered random moments to pause and reflect—whether waiting in lines, lying in bed or riding the subway. But now, like most of us, he automatically picks up his phone and engages in some activity so that about the only place he is alone with his thoughts anymore is the shower.
Last night I began my seminary class with a short, profound reading by Augustine of Hippo, and then gave my students two minutes of silence to ponder it and prepare their hearts for class. Later, a 23-year-old student shared that he couldn’t even remember a time when he had been silent, alone with his thoughts for two minutes. As incredible as that sounds, it is more than likely descriptive of an entire generation of digital natives and a good percentage of digital immigrants as well.
I am by nature, an optimist, but I have to say that this loss of our reflective capacities as we trade mindful moments for digital diving fills me with dread for our collective future. Just this week I sat at my grandson’s soccer game where a 2-year-old nearby played on his father’s phone for the entire hour plus. The brain of this child and millions like him are in the developmental stages and we are only beginning to understand the far-reaching impact this stunting of the mind will have for our culture and indeed the world at large. If you think I am the least bit alarmist here, check out these videos and then pass them on to every parent you know:
HOW TECHNOLOGY MAY AFFECT CHILDREN (DR. OZ) (click here)
THE DRUG-LIKE EFFECT OF SCREEN-TIME ON THE TEENAGE BRAIN (click here)
Nowhere is this more critical than in our journey with Jesus, in which our entire lives are to be shaped as the Spirit of Christ gently teaches, trains and guides our steps. Indeed, this is the only way we can begin to comprehend deep truths about God and his love. Paul explains:
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. …“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:9-14, selected, ESV)
Imagine with me for a moment: What might happen if we chose to ignore our devices several times a day and instead opened our hearts and minds for the Spirit to illuminate our minds? What if we took the time while standing in line to ponder the people around us and lift up a prayer or offer a peaceful smile? What if we were to ruminate on God’s purpose for our day as we sit at stoplights instead of stealing glances at our smartphones? What if we took walks without them or turned off all our notifications, making conscious choices about when and how long we would peruse our emails, texts, hyperlinks, tweets or instas or snapchats?