Thursday, February 16, 2012

Socrates and the Effect of the Internet on Book Reading

I just finished Tony Reinke's book, Lit!, and I found it quite helpful in many respects when it comes to reading. He's very practical and provides a lot of concrete things to take away and apply immediately. I found this section on the effect of the internet on our reading particularly interesting.
Socrates was concerned that scholars would rely on external details found in books rather than pursue deep thought and meditation. He was concerned with externalized knowledge replacing internalized wisdom. The oral tradition encouraged a healthy fostering of internal wisdom; libraries of books would become crutches of external reminders.  
I’m not sure if Socrates was aware of the tremendous benefits of books—including preserving his own words about books (ironic). But it was clear that Socrates saw the dawn of books as the dusk of the human memory.  
The dangers that Socrates foresaw have now arrived in the modern Internet. When we can access the sum total of human knowledge with one thumb on a smartphone in 0.2 seconds through a Google search as we drive 70 mph down the freeway, what happens to the human memory? Who needs to remember details? The memory shrinks like a grape my kids left in the backseat of the car.  
An honest Wired magazine writer confessed, “The line between where my memory leaves off and Google picks up is getting blurrier by the second.” That was a chief concern of Socrates. As online search engines become highly refined mechanisms for finding information, our internal memory becomes less necessary. We make decisions based upon access to external reminders rather than from an internal storehouse of cultivated wisdom.  
The implications are huge for book readers: how we read online affects how we read offline.  
Christian book readers who frequently use the Internet and social media will be faced with four temptations that will make it difficult to preserve and cultivate book reading skills.  
(Tony Reinke, Lit!, Page 140). 
 The 4 Temptations Reinke identifies:

1. Fragmented Browsing vs. Sustained Comprehension 
2. Reacting vs. Thinking 
3. Ready Access to Information vs. Slowly Digested Life Wisdom 
4. Skimming with the Head vs. Delighting with the Heart

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