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)
But here’s the thing: We will never have the wisdom or wherewithal to help our children and grandchildren deal with digiphrenia until we determine to deal with it first ourselves. We are as addicted to our devices as anyone else, and getting serious about finding balance must begin with us.
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)
These addictions that draw us continually to our devices are surely stealing some of life’s most precious experiences, and none more important than the serendipitous seconds when God chooses to show up—in gentle whispers and quiet nudges, in moments of mystery and glimpses of glory, in clarity of thought and depth of perception-all those things that no eye has seen or ear heard or heart imagined, but God ever waits to pour out on us in love. How many of these might you have missed today?
At the airport after teaching a workshop on The Wired Soul.
Okay, so I’ve been a bit of a whiner lately, and ungrateful to boot. I think I’m over it now, but since confession is good for the soul, here I am, telling you. It started last week when I was in Canada to share on topics from my book, The Wired Soul with the Navigator staff. Before my workshop, I got to hear two amazing messages about Jesus—one by missiologist Michael Frost and the other by author and teacher Deb Hirsch. I was deeply moved by what they shared, but then I found myself thinking about my workshop where I’d be talking about rewiring our brains and digital life and smartphones and that’s when I started feeling sorry for myself, lamenting, “Lord, why can’t I just talk about Jesus?”
The Lord used those messages to gently but firmly set me straight. Let me explain. Michael Frost told us that the primary mission of the church is to alert everyone, everywhere to the universal reign of King Jesus, and then he asked: “What do others know of God’s reign from watching your life?”
Deb Hirsch talked about Jesus sending us into our world exactly as the Father sent him and that being incarnational is first and foremost identification with others in their humanness. This, she said, requires a lot of listening and learning and time. Simply put, it means we must be present to the people God places in our paths.
As I sat there thinking about presence, the Lord reminded me that I wrote this book because everywhere I looked, I saw Christ-followers who had lost their way, who were so caught up in digital life that they were no longer able to be present—to themselves, to God or to the world around them. Being tethered to smartphones as intensely as we tend to be, makes it difficult to even experience the reign of our King Jesus, much less alert the world to it. These things were on my mind with every page I wrote in that book, and while it is full of information—research, statistics, etc., The Wired Soul is, most importantly, a word of hope and a path forward in this crazy technological revolution of which we are all a part. Here is how I summarized it on the final page:
…undergirding each word there has been a purpose, a passion that fuels not just this book, but everything I have ever written or taught. Simply put, I yearn to see Christ- followers fulfill their joyful destiny by walking in intimacy with him. Never have I felt this to be more at risk than today, as the digital revolution alters our very way of being in the world.
I hope you will read The Wired Soul for one reason—I want you to fall in love with Jesus all over again, and for most of us, unless we find some balance in our digital lives, there is simply no space for that to happen. Okay, I’m done whining now, and feeling grateful I got to write this book. You can get it now here!
Worrisome. That’s how Publisher’s Weekly described me in their review of my book, The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected World. Here’s what they said:
While reviewing recent studies about brains and neural pathways, Rhodes strikes a more worrisome tone, but her conclusions are uplifting, empowering, and pragmatic. (you can read more of their review here).
When you get me started, I admit I can be a bit worrisome about technology. In fact, when I was writing the book, David Zimmerman, my incredible editor at NavPress, had to pull me back a few times from coming on too strong. But truth be told, I have a love/ hate relationship with technology. I hate its addictive properties and the way it is rewiring our brains so that we find it hard to practice critical spiritual disciplines like reflection or mindfulness.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I happily embrace the benefits that seem to pile up daily as we move through this digital revolution. The challenge is how to make sure technology serves our needs, rather than it being our taskmaster. To that end, I thought I would share three of my favorite apps—one’s that I use regularly to enhance my spiritual journey and increase the depth of my relationship with God. One caveat though--if you are one of those who can't focus or be still in God's presence, if you check your smartphone for emails, texts, messages, etc. etc., you might want to work on focus before you start adding apps! But for the rest of you, here goes:
I would love to hear about any apps that help you in your spiritual journey--let us know in the comment section!
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.