I have followed Tim Challies' blog for some time now. In 2008, at T4G, I had the opportunity to meet him and ask him questions about his first book for a project I was working on at the time. He even gave my book a shout out several months ago on his blog. So when this book came out, I knew that I would take the opportunity to read it. I just didn't think I would read it so quickly or it would impact me so greatly.
(Please read to the very end, for a chance to win a copy of the book!)
The Next Story is a book about how Christians view technology in light of the digital explosion. He says repeatedly that the book was conceived as he tried to answer some questions in his own mind. Questions like, "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?" (11)
The perfect illustration came as I read this book sitting in my living room, with my IPhone at my side. It seemed like every other page, my email alert would sound off and I was forced to make a decision. Keep reading or check my email. As I told my wife what I was reading, at every sound, she would look over at me to see what I was going to do--answer the email or keep reading? And that is his point in the book. Am I giving up my freedom of doing what I want to do because that thing that owns me has called my name. Of course, it is not that big of a deal when it interrupts my reading of a book (sorry Tim). But it is a big deal when I leave the focus of my family, church, God, meetings, or many other things in my life so I can answer an email or text message. He says, "But if technology is a good gift from God, with the potential to help us fulfill our God-given calling and purpose, why does it so often feel like we are slaves to our technology, like we are serving it instead of demanding that it serves us?" (13)
All of the book is good. Each chapter brings forth some concept or idea that is helpful and challenging for the Christian to think about. Yet, for me, the most insightful is Chapter 5: "Life in the Real World (Mediation / Identity)." In this chapter he shows how the "best relationships we can have are not those that rely on mediation, but rather the ones that allow for unmediated contact and communication . . . face-to-face contact between human beings is inherently richer and better than any mediated contact" (92). That is so true. We just moved to Ohio several months ago and greatly miss our friends. As I read that chapter, I was texting a friend that has moved to Texas. I talked to a friend in Ohio that ended the conversation saying "it is good to hear your voice." It was good to hear his as well, but it was nothing like seeing him in person.
He continues, "At its best, digital communication can be a supplement for real communication, but whenever possible should be a minor component to the many ways we can interact with one another. It is certainly not a suitable replacement for face-to-face contact." (96). His view of technology as a modern day, new gnosticism was very insightful. You will have to read it to understand his argument that "cyberspace gives us a place to be ourselves apart from our bodies" (101).
After reading a book like this, I am forced to make a decision. Either this is going to be another book that educates me and simply increases my knowledge of some subject; or this is going to be one of those books that forces me to do something. I do NOT think you should read this book if you are not willing to give some serious thought about how technology is affecting your life. If you are NOT willing to take a step back to evaluate the gadgets and gizmos in your life, I believe you will miss the point of this book. So, what are the outcomes for my life because of this book? Here are a few on my list as of now.
- Turn off my email alert on my IPhone when at home. I will check it when I want to check it, not when it beckons me to check it. I will not check it until the kids go to bed at night.
- One digital night off per week for the entire family. There will be one night a week that we will not watch TV, no computers, no wii, nothing that involves technology. We will read or play games, back to the old days when we were forced to talk to each other face-to-face. So, if I don't respond to one of your text messages or emails or calls, you probably know that you have chosen the night off. (However, I am a pastor, so I will answer phone calls selectively on those nights).
- Limit the amount of time my kids are in front of screens. I was shocked after I read this book how much I noticed my kids wanted to play wii, ds, games on my IPhone, or on the computer. It is constant. I am still thinking how to do this, but I want to set up how many minutes a day that get to do this.
- When studying, I will turn off all beeps & alerts. I have always said that I need time to not be distracted, that is why I often close my door when I study. Yet often when I close my door, I get 10 minutes into something and some email pops up or an instant message on twitter or something happens to distract me. I need to get rid of those so I can think, meditate, and be impacted with God and His Word.
It's a really helpful book, one that I hope you might choose to read. Thanks to Zondervan for sending me a free copy of the book, I would like to give you a chance to read it by giving away a free copy of the book. Here is how it is going to work. Simply make a comment in order to be registered to win. You MUST give at least your first name & last initial to be entered to win the book. I will draw randomly on Friday, June 2nd at 12:00 pm, and will post the winner in a blog post later that day. Please check back then to see if you won the book!