A review of The Next Story, Tim Challies.

Tim Challies compares the digital age with a thermonuclear bomb; saying it not only destroys everything old, but it combines things in new ways, such that everything is impacted. While that might sound a little melodramatic, he then goes onto document the challenges of the digital age: the way that microprocessors are in everything around our homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces, even in toys.

Challies’ title comes from a poem by a technologist, Danny Hills:

In some sense, we’ve
run out of our story, which
we were operating on, which
was the story of power taking over nature – it’s not
that we’ve finished that, but
we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, and
we don’t know what
the next story is after that.

His primary question is: have we become servants of technology rather than it serving us?

Challies looks at areas of application:

  • We increasingly live in a mediated reality, that is, our understanding of the world is fed to us through TV or the internet or Facebook or twitter. Mediated communication is quick and easy, does not require us to think, and gives us the illusion of control.
  • Technology impacts on us biologically, overloading our brains and tempting us to exhaustion.
  • We are open to constant distractions, and pulled from task to task, which leads to shallow thinking and living. We need to be wary of multitasking and skimming.
  • Information is a compelling new idol, promising so much, and stealing our trust.
  • We are tempted to become hypersocial, with a need for constant connection.
  • There has been significant changes in authority structures, especially in the workplace, but also churches and families.
  • We may not be aware of how our privacy is being compromised, and how visible our lives are.

What I like about Challies’ book is that it is not just a lament of all that has been lost, or simply a focus on using the new technology to build God’s Kingdom, it gives opportunity for critical reflection, applying biblical wisdom, with some suggestions for how we recreate the next story.

He has some great tips for protecting ourselves from some of the harmful sides of technology:

  1. Be visible. It is easy to be anonymous online, and sometimes we can be tempted because we think no-one is watching.
  2. Be accountable. Let friends and family know what you are doing online.
  3. Be real. Check to make sure that what you are posting resonates with your true self; we can often be tempt to fabricate ourselves online, or pretend everything is great.
  4. Be mature. Aspire to grow in wisdom and speak truth.
  5. Be aware. Question your motives, be aware of the darkness within.
  6. Be separate. Cultivate times of solitude and concentration.
  7. Be careful of your trail. How much information are you revealing and how widely?

In his final chapter, Challies journals through his personal responses to what he has written, looking back at his own story. It is a useful list of affirmations:

  • Communications: be encouraging in what you write online, speak the truth in love.
  • Mediated lives: test where information is coming from, think more deeply, spend more time in face-to-face communication.
  • Distractions: try and single task, and be truly present with whom you are with. In a search for constant connection, remember the wisdom of having God as your primary connection through prayer and the Bible.
  • Information as idol: focus on knowledge and wisdom ahead of data and information, and spend more time thinking about fewer things.
  • Truth and authority: question truth by consensus or crowdsource, and look at sources of truth, for a better authority.
  • Visibility and privacy: don’t value yourself by responses to your postings, be mindful of developing character, not necessarily a following.

This is a very helpful book in the face of our rapidly changing world. Challies writes with Christian conviction and much experience. I am sure it is available as an e-book!

Feature photo: SamuelJohn.de

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