Growing up, I really disliked reading. Maybe I should say I hated reading. I’m not sure why exactly, but I suspect it was a result of what I read.
Thinking back, I recall it being rather boring. I like to blame it, at least in part, on required content which was way over my head. Who in the world would assign George Orwell’s Animal Farm to a junior-higher?! I doubt I’d understand it now, some five decades later! (Nonetheless I still like to quote from that work: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”)
I didn’t recognize the value of reading until late in my college and early career years. It became obvious to me that readers were leaders. And if I wanted to deepen the character of my soul and the clarity of my thinking, reading was a must. If thoughtful conversation was on my radar screen, then my reading stack needed to be well stocked. So, I diligently pursued a list of works. Through the years, I’ve grown to actually enjoy the experience (even though I prefer to listen to books these days rather than read).
My view of books and articles fall into two basic experiential categories: 1) sit-back reading and 2) sit-forward reading. Books by authors like John Grisham and Robert Ludlum are sit-back—very little thinking is required to escape into their legal and conspiracy-laden worlds … you just enjoy the fictional ride as your eyes feed dialogue to the theater of your mind.
In contrast, you must sit-forward if you pick up a book by C.S. Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Sit-forward works often require re-reading sections of text. (How could my mind wander in the middle of devouring a convicting book?!) You have to be disciplined with these works as they require you to mentally chew on the insight and poignancy of their writing. It’s wonderful!
But the ability to read those deeper tombs has changed for me. Lately, I’ve found it more and more difficult to read sit-forward books. I found a magazine article which aptly describes what I think is happening. In the July/August 2008 of The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr asked the question, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” My answer is yes! Forgive the lengthy quote, but I think he’s spot on:
Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading.
Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after.
Mulling today is a liability. Every piece I read online, the worm hole is filled with links requiring my attention. The gravity of these links pull me into a world which forbids deeper thought: the more I link, the less I mull. There’s no time to take the deep dive. Carr continues:
What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. 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 unintended consequence has been that the discipline of retained information is no longer necessary. If so much information is always available immediately, why not free up brain space? Why memorize when anything can quickly be looked up? Why worry about remembering the formula to find the area of a circle when Google is always at the ready? (Actually I do remember. It’s: π r2. (Of course there’s the nonsensical corollary: “cornbread are round.”) Growing up, we remembered a legion of phone numbers. Today, I can hardly remember one: my own!
The result is we put information into two basic categories: stuff to remember (like my kids’ birthdays, when Christmas lands, my bank PIN, etc.) and stuff I don’t need to remember because I can Google it (like the list of POTUS successors, list which seems more important these days than ever).
We’ve been freed from the burden of recall since our smartphones give us immediate access to the world’s encyclopedic knowledge. What burning fact hasn’t been answered at the dinner table by Googling a key word or two? In fact, Amazon and Google both have home devices which allow me to skip the arduous task of typing a question! (Amazon Echo Demo)
In his article, Nicholas Carr went on to point out “Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” To which I would agree; we can be forgetful since everything is available on line all the time.
All that to say, I thought of this mind-numbing Google effect when I heard Charles Morris of Haven Today talk this week about The Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia is such a wonderful world of both sit-back and sit-forward reading—it should be required bedtime reading for every family. The (sometimes not-so) subtle under pinning of Lewis’ writing works makes it impossible not to take a deep dive.
He forces you to exercising imagination. He creates a grand stage for the theater of your mind. The actors play out a divine plan, explaining the character of God and his world. It’s well worth the dive!
I believe it may be that Google is making you stupid. But the rich engagement of books like The Chronicles of Narnia will go a long way to fixing that! Haven even has the collector’s edition of the series available at their website.
My email signature includes this quote from Tim Keller. It’s a fitting conclusion to avoid the shallow life that only skims the surface of the information world: “The Internet is the friend of information, but the enemy of thought.”