Monday, August 06, 2007

Honey, Honey: On Moderating Information Intake

Over the weekend I didn't check my RSS reader once. I thought about it a few times but the thought of how many unread blog posts awaited me led to my putting it off until this morning. "I really have to excise some subscriptions," I thought to myself as I deleted posts in mass. Proverbial counsel came to mind as I labored to get the number of unread posts under 100+. " If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it" (Proverbs 25:16). This is the flip-side of counsel offered in the previous chapter: "My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste" (Proverbs 24:13). The lesson is that moderation in the consumption of even good things is a mark of wisdom.

I frequently think about the application of this truth to technology and the vast amounts of valuable information it allows us to access. I fear that Christians are prone to assess our use of information technologies solely on the basis of what kind of information is being conveyed with little thought given to how uncritical and excessive use of information technologies may have undesirable effects even when we are using them to communicate good things. Macht at Prosthesis recently shared a proposal for a book that I hope he will someday write. Here's what he said:

If I were to write a book about a Christian approach to technology, I would begin by surveying a number of different views of technology. Then I would argue that most people take an instrumental view of technology. Then I would point out how this view causes them to see the good and bad in technology based on how it is used. For example, somebody might say that computers are good when they allow us to keep in touch with friends who live far away, but they are bad when they help people to such things as this. Then I would argue that this instrumental view is insufficient for characterizing technology. Not only are we affected by how we use technology, but we are affected when we use technology (regardless of the ends for which we use it). Our everyday use of technologies instills in us a certain way of living - it teaches us, it disciplines us, it forms us. Then I would look at various technologies that we all use every day and compare how they discipline us. Finally, I would compare these with various spiritual disciplines and then attempt to offer suggestions about what to do if and when any conflict arises.
What Macht points out is the necessity of giving serious thought to how we help each other live faithfully to Christ in our decisions about whether and how we make use of cell phones, email, blogs, etc. Judging from the results of America Online's third annual Email Addiction survey (12% of those surveyed admitted to checking email in church), there's just cause for believers to consider and converse about whether we are using technology in ways that affirm our professed convictions about God, creation, the unity of truth and the dignity of human being. Where in the life of the church, I wonder, does such instruction take place. We relegate such discussion to the realms of academia to our own detriment.

Quentin Schultze has long been one of the too few voices calling Christ-followers to theologically reflect on our technological practices. In Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age, he issues the following caution about how the failure to exercise self-control in information consumption can lead to a fragmentary and shallow existence:

Information technologies are biased against the discovery of coherent moral wisdom and in favor of the spread of fragmented information. The dissemination of information can become an incessant noise that repeatedly diverts our attention from greater matters. Like slot machine players in a casino, we lose track of the rhythms of the natural world. Unless we learn moderation, our lives will be a mishmash of messages and information that is ever more tenuously connected to concrete obligations, cultures, and traditions. More and more people have the power to exchange messages and access databases, but fewer people seem to know what life means or how to live it well. Coping with the pace of messaging is enough trouble for the day. In the information age, who has time and energy to cobble together a moral vision? (p. 48)


Milton Stanley said...

Good word, Keith. I don't see it showing up on the auto-trackback section, but I linked to your post this morning. Peace.

KP said...

Thanks for the encouragement and the link, Milton.

mrclm said...

I don't know what read you are using, but I've found Google Reader to be really helpful when I go away for a while and come back to a boat load of unread messages. There are short cut keys (J and K) that scroll through entire messages to the next message. It lets me browse quickly by header to see if I am interested, and then I can mark the item as unread and come back later and read it. I can go through hundreds of messages in about 10 minutes, and reduce them down to a dozen or so to come back to that interested me. Saves me a ton of wasted time.

Big Chris
Because I said so blog

KP said...

Thanks for the tip, Chris. I used to use Bloglines but made the switch to Google Reader a few months ago. You're right. It certainly expedites the process of getting through a lot of posts. I hadn't been making use of the shortcut keys so perhaps now I can shave even more time off!