In my reading, I’ve come across the difference between being able to read and actually reading well in a digital age:
“the literacy problem we face today is not illiteracy by 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.” (12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke, pg. 86)
I was feeling the weight of this when I took up my social media fast in November: I’m looking at a lot of things and ingesting them…but I’m not really digesting anything.
And there is a real problem in taking information in without really chewing on it:
Those who are aliterate have difficulty separating what is eternally valuable from what is transient…they struggle to draw relevance from written texts. (Ibid)
When Bible verses mingle in my feed with dog pictures and razor ads and baby pictures and biblical rebuke and somebody buying a house…I struggle to click the link of life-giving information rather than what’s easy. And when I do click the more worthy link, I’m not really ready to deeply engage with the words there.
There’s irony in writing online about how much the internet is eroding my ability to read other people’s words deeply. But I’m making progress. From giving up Instagram to keeping Facebook off my phone, I feel the pull of it less than I used to.
There is a season (and even an hour; mine tends to be 3pm) for skimming, and there is a season for deep reading. Solomon said that, right? 😉 In a similar vein, I’ve always enjoyed these words from Francis Bacon:
Most online content is the tasting kind. And since we’re just skimming it anyway, it certainly won’t satisfy. Books are better and can, indeed, be tasted, swallowed, or slowly chewed and digested over for a season or lifetime.
But there’s only one book, one content source, that will leave us filled: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst'” (John 6:35).
“Isolation + feeding on vanity = soul-starving loneliness
Isolation + communion with God = soul-feeding solitude” (Ibid, pg. 128)
Downtime is okay. Phones are okay. Even scrolling can be okay. We (I) must simply watch the needle to make sure that we are feeding our souls rather than starving them with loneliness masquerading as novelty.
One holds life; the other never can.