Matt Lee Anderson has a typically perceptive essay over at Mere Orthodoxy on the subject of our habits of reading in the Internet Age and how these are unconducive to reflective and receptive dialogue. He writes:
I suggested above that a world that does not read deeply will struggle to speak reasonably with each other. That claim deserves more attention, as it is not intuitively obvious. If my hypothesis that deep reading demands trust gets anywhere near the truth, it would provide one reason why a world of shallow readers would also be a world of combative and reactive interlocutors. When our posture is one of skepticism or defensiveness toward what we read, our tone in response will be as well. Winsomely and cheerfully defending the truths of Christianity means charitably reading those who oppose us.
The paradox of this is that the very promise the internet made for intellectually minded Christians is the one that it necessarily cannot fulfill, at least not for very long. As someone who began his public career by organizing the first conference for Christian bloggers back in 2004, I know well the triumphalism of the “new media” and the possibilities for improved and expanded dialogue with those we disagreed with inherent in it. Those possibilities may have come to pass in some small corners (like this one!), but more often than not the speed and anonymity of the internet brought out the least charitable and most polarizing aspects of our world. And that was among a body of people whose first movements in this world didn’t have screens in front of them. Those who are children now will struggle even more than we, unless they are fed a steady diet of books.
Read the whole piece here.
Matt’s points about the connection between our online media and our habits of reading, thought, discourse, and argument will be familiar to readers of writers such as Nicholas Carr. However, I believe that they are extremely important. I have reflected upon these things extensively over the last several years and, in large part as a result of this, I am reaching the conclusion that the Internet isn’t generally serving me well on these fronts.
Like Matt, this has brought me to the point of radically reassessing my online reading, writing, socializing, and dialoguing. Most of the time I spend reading material online would be better spent reading published material offline. Most of the time I spend writing material for blogs, comments, tweets, e-mails, and other online discussions would be better spent writing in a more polished and detailed fashion. Most of the time I spend socializing online would be better spent interacting with people in person. Much of the time I spend dialoguing online—with the esteemed commenters on this blog excluded—could be more productively spent doing … well, just about anything else!
As I have argued before, greater speed, increased efficiency, the reduction of ‘friction’, more information, and greater sociality are often detrimental to our habits of reading, thought, writing, and argument (follow any of the eight links in this sentence for much more of my thoughts on the subject). Those of us who know life before the Internet and especially before the web started to be dominated by a few social networks and when it provided room for much more obscurity and privacy, with much less supervision, may sense a loss that many of our younger peers might not. Many of the sorts of conversations that first inspired me to start a blog are no longer possible now on the Internet now. Indeed, what it means to blog has changed considerably. The future of the Internet for me may well be a movement back to such archaic media as private e-mail discussion lists, where it is still possible to have slow, non-reactive, non-intimate, and intelligent conversations with select groups of interlocutors, who can be held to high standards of interpretation, argumentation, and dialogue. The value of and great need for online contexts that are slower, ‘frictionful’, pared down, less social, less efficient, less intimate, obscurer, less accessible, less inclusive, less interactive, less connected, etc. has never been so clear to me. It is in such contexts that reading, thought, and discourse may finally thrive.