I was first introduced to Tim Challies, like many people, through reading his blog. While not specifically a technology guru, Tim does web consulting and has been blogging and using the latest and greatest tech devices for a while now. He has clearly spent a good amount of time thinking reflectively about it, and this book is the organized presentation of those thoughts.
The audience for this book is very broad. I would almost go so far as to say if you have a Facebook account, or know someone who does, you might want to pick up this book. Not that Facebook is the benchmark for technology involvement, but it does provide a good measuring stick for who is being shaped in some ways by technology and who might want to stop and reflect more on that from a Christian perspective. For me, this book came at a time when I am wrestling through my own technological involvement. I consider myself somewhat tech savvy, but I also remember what social life was like before the internet and cell phones. Technology has changed and shaped how we are socially involved, and thinking through the implications of that is a necessary activity for those who want to think Christianly about all of life.
The book itself is the product of Challies thinking reflectively about three questions:
- Am I giving up control of my life?
- Is it possible that these technologies are changing me?
- Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?
If these questions have bothered you, or have crossed your mind recently as you’ve been spending time on Facebook, getting setup with a Twitter account, or finally upgrading to an iPhone then this book is definitely for you. There is certainly more to technological involvement than that, but for me these were all game changers, and they might have been for you as well.
The first part of the book is split into three chapters. Chapter 1 is a kind of philosophy of technology. Or you could look at it as a theology of technology since Challies spends time developing ideas about technology from the early chapters of Genesis before wrapping up with some thoughts on the interface of technology and idolatry. Chapter 2 moves to an evaluation of technology, noting both its intrinsic benefits and dangers. Chapter 3 then covers a kind of history of technology, rapidly covering some of its major developments and bringing the reader up to the present.
The second part of the book directs the reader to see how these advances in technology have an effect on our lives as Christians. Each chapter comes with questions for reflection at the end which can help you think through the issues it discusses in more detail. Chapter 4 is focused on communication and how technology can enhance our ability to communicate, but also how it can detract from it in some ways. Chapter 5 deals with the issues of mediation and identity, specifically how technologies can extend our presence. Think for example of churches that have a multi-site setup (like my former church in Texas, the Village, as well as my current church here in Florida). The pastor’s presence is mediated to the extension campuses via video technology. He is, in a sense, present at those other locations, but not quite in the same sense that he is present in the location where he is being filmed. In this case, and many others, technology makes some advances, but from some perspectives it represents a kind of retreat.
Chapter 6 looks at distraction, which to me is a crucial issue related to how we use technology, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Much of what Challies talks about here is dealt with in more detail in Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, a book I would highly recommend. In both cases, the conclusion is that many times technology undermines our ability to focus for extended periods of time and can detract from, rather than enhance our pursuits. In a couple of related issues, Chapter 7 covers the current sea of information available at the click of a mouse and the implications that has for our pursuits in knowledge, while chapter 8 covers the connection of truth and authority. I found this latter chapter very helpful, especially his extended discussion of Wikipedia and the philosophy behind it. It also has much bearing on the blogging world since that is a key area where people passing on information may sometimes have little authority to speak to the issue.
The book closes with a chapter on visibility and privacy in the digital world before turning to a epilogue. Considering the casual approach I think many people have to Facebook and Twitter, it is sobering to realize once something is on the internet, it is there forever. That, along with many other considerations deserve more reflective thinking by Christians exploring the world of digital media today.
I should probably revisit this book again before the summer is out and think through many of the issues Challies raises. I gave the book itself a pretty quick reading to pick up the general contours. I think that given the relatively few amount of books written on this subject from a Christian perspective, Challies’ book is a great step in the right direction. It is neither the last word nor the first, but adds much to the conversation. If I were to pinpoint a general criticism though, I think that his book is mainly descriptive with very little overall discussion of a prescriptive way forward. Readers may have the feeling after reading that Challies has merely described and general problem but not given the same amount of space to outlining a solution. At the same time though, the solution forward should probably occupy its own book entirely.
Another general criticism, which is best pointed out by another reviewer, is some hints of inconsistency in Challies’ thinking. This was the first book I’ve read on media ecology, but those who are more well read than I am in this area may note the shortcomings of Challies’ conclusions than I would miss. After reading the review that I just linked you to, I thought I might need to both go back and re-read parts of Challies’ book, as well as read wider in this area. As a criticism though, this shouldn’t detract from picking up The Next Story and giving it a read. It probably serves best as an introduction to thinking Christianly about technology, but shouldn’t be considered definitive in any way.
All this to say, I would heartily recommend this book to just about anyone interested in media ecology and how technology and interfaces with the Christian life. My only caution would be to not make the only thing you read, but let it start you down the road of thinking critically about the subject.
Thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy!