Joe's post reminded me of some of Doug Groothuis's reflections in The Soul in Cyberspace. Here are some quotes from a chapter called "Hypertext Realities and Effects":
One much-heralded technology, known as hypertext, is especially potent in its ability to fragment literary meaning and textual authority. Hypertext allows users to have access to various parts of a document, or of several documents at once, by merely pointing and clicking. This function tends to encourage a swift skimming, surfing, or scanning or information according to nonlinear association (p. 65)Quentin Schultze raises similar concerns in Habits of the High-Tech Heart:
Because texts in cyberspace are so malleable and movable, we can easily lose the sense of a unitary author as the source of meaning. This shift in emphasis dovetails with the postmodernist or deconstructionist attack of objective meaning, on the legitimacy of comprehensive worldviews, and on the integrity of literary texts as expressing the determined intention of their authors (p. 68).
Cyberspace offers the promise of a kind of cognitive ubiquity - the world at our keyboard and screen - at the cost of depth. This encourages one to become a cognitive tourist, who visits many sites on the Net, downloads and combines many bits of data, but understands very little . . . the cognitive tourist of cyberspace may easily visit (and possibly record) information without digesting it (pp. 73-74).
In cyberspace, we approach communication superficially, like surfers skimming through Web pages. One of the most influential Web-design gurus, Jakob Nielsen, claims that only 16 percent of Internet users actually read Web pages word-by-word. He concludes that Web writers should compose about half as many words for the Web as they would for the printed page. Internet researchers similarly discovered that Web surfers are too impatient to read much; surfers are "basically scanning. there's very little actual comprehension going on." [Quote from "The No-Book Report: Skim it and Weep"] Such brevity may be a virtue if the purpose of communication is purely instrumental, such as conveying information about stock market conditions, baseball scores, and weather forecasts. But what if our purpose is noninstrumental and intrinsically moral - such as becoming genuinely intimate with a person or community, conversing about life, sharing in the fellowship of kindred spirits, mentoring colleagues, and nurturing children? Cyberspace is then at best an ancillary messaging medium rather than a prime location for cultivating shared knowing and moral wisdom. The real value of online communication, then, is largely instrumental - such as getting information, sending a message, setting up appointments, and making contact (p. 65).I know of the impatience of which these authors write. I have always been an avid reader but I fear that my extended time online has habituated my mind such that at times I have greater difficulty to read even books I enjoy with sustained attention. It's like my mind is racing. The pace isn't fast enough. Has anyone else experienced that? If this is so for those who enjoy reading, what of those for whom reading was a challenge before they went online? Years ago I read a book called Preaching to Programmed People that sought to help pastors understand how the expectations and thinking of their congregations were conditioned by large doses of weekly television viewing. I wonder what the implications are for preaching (or any other means of biblical/theological education) to "cognitive tourists."
Joe Carter advises that linkers use "must read" sparingly. At the risk of violating another tip, I think Groothuis's and Schultze's books fall into that category.