The Word and words

December 28, 2011

The BBC reports on a 16 year old programmer who has developed an app that summarizes the content of websites. It’s a great idea and, to be honest, sort of amazing that no one had thought of it yet.

When asked why he developed the app, Nick D’Aloisio responded:

I was revising for a history exam and using Google, clicking in and out of search results, and it seemed quite inefficient. If I found myself on a site that was interesting I was reading it and that was wasting time.

It makes sense. Who hasn’t visited a website looking for information and then spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the material or distracted by non-relevant information on the page?

Nick’s response highlights, however, what I think will be a growing problem for the culture at large and for the Christian church in particular: a diminished ability to read deeply and for a sustained period of time. The story highlights what is coming to be meant by reading: finding and absorbing needed information. Nicholas Carr describes the differences in his 2008 Atlantic magazine article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

To be sure, information-gathering is one type of reading. Almost all of us read for work–emails, handbooks, spreadsheets, narrative reports, etc. For the most part, as we read these documents we’re connecting informational dots to create a picture of the reality the document is describing. 

There are, of course, other types of reading that often get less attention in our image- and information-saturated culture. I’m thinking specifically of reading poetry, scripture, or even lengthy essays.

It’s worth observing that God chose to reveal Himself both through the Incarnate Word, Christ, and through the Word of God written, the Holy Scriptures. This means, at least in to me, that words are central to the Christian faith. And by implication, reading is important to the Christian faith as well. That’s why it’s disturbing to contemplate the lessening value of sustained reading in our culture.