Category Archives: media

Shallow thinking

I’ve just received my copy of The Shallows.\1/ I’m looking forward to reading it, but not right now, as I’ve several other books on the go at the moment. I did, however, peek at the prologue where Carr mentions McLuhan (how could he not?), and the fact that the Internet is the latest medium to spur the debate on the impact of new media.

It struck me that while the Internet revolution may be as significant, or more significant than the Gutenburg revolution, there is an interesting difference. (Perhaps Carr will cover this in the book.) In the Internet Age we have the impact of visual representations (on television and in films [movies]) of what computer technology might be able to achieve. People in Gutenburg’s time experienced a revolution that unfolded over time, but we are in the middle of one that has been imagined ahead of time, and in considerable detail. That must surely have a major impact on how the revolution will play out, for reality is fast outpacing our earliest imaginings.

The Matrix is one powerful representation, but I suspect that Star Trek is more powerful, for it is in Star Trek that (information) technology is presented as ubiquitous and almost totally benign. I don’t mean the original Star Trek series, but the more recent ones: Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even Enterprise. It is the great boon to society. Everything can be solved by means of technology, and usually instantaneously. Information is always somehow available. It is only in the face of unexplained interference or sabotage that the tense drama of being stranded in hostile terrain can be played out, but those scenarios are few and far between. (How is is that crew members can get stuck in turbolifts when site-to-site transport can be used in other emergencies?) More often, Star Trek captains command their chief engineers to solve impossible problems in unbelievably short timescales. And they always achieve the impossible. Mission Impossible happens in every episode to the nth degree. Kirk, Picard, Sisco and Janeway are not the real heroes, rather they are Scotty, Chief O’Brien, and B’Elana Torres.

And this presentation of technology affects many other more popular films and television series, so even those who have never seen Star Trek see the Star Trek Paradigm visualized regularly. Mobile [cell] phones may not be Star Trek communicators or tricorders, but they are the twenty-first century prototypes of twenty-fourth century fiction. We want the Internet to become what the Federation Database has become.

This advance visualization must have a massive impact on the Internet Revolution. The Internet already affects the way we speak: we no longer look things up, we google them. And it must surely be affecting the way we think. The Big Switch\2/ made a lot of sense of things for me, and I’m hoping Carr will do the same in The Shallows. But no matter the pressure of the instantaneous Internet, I will savour the deferred gratification of holding back starting until I can devote sufficient time to serious reading and reflection.



1. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember (London: Atlantic Books, 2010).

2. Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (New York: W W Norton, 2008).

To e- or not to e-, that is the question

Tim Challies recently posted a series of articles on a topic dear to my heart that are well worth reading. I share his enthusiasm for books that he shared in ‘5 Reasons Books Are Better Than E-Books’\1/. I’m also with him on ‘5 Reasons E-Books Are Better Than Books’\2/. Yes, e-books do have some advantages, but they are still outweighed by the books’ advantages. Like Tim, I just can’t imagine having to move house. It would be three times worse for me than for him. One mitigating factor is that I tend to buy reference materials as e-books in preference to books, especially when they are considerably cheaper. Then I feel guilty when I make little use of them. Are e-books making me more covetous?

But it’s not just sufficient to pit the arguments against each other and take your pick. There is a need to think through the consequences, which Tim points out well in ‘Books & E-Books, Media & Messages’.\3/ I agree wholeheartedly that convenience is not sufficient reason to abandon the book in favour of the e-Book. The medium has a definite impact on the message. E-media appear less permanent (Tim’s point about permanence notwithstanding), and paradoxically I suspect we give more credence to online, e-sources without sufficient critical appraisal. It’s similar to the appeal to “it was on television” as the ultimate “proof” of a fact. We can certainly read books uncritically, but the e-medium somehow seems to reduce our ability or willingness to engage critically with the content. McLuhan and Postman are definitely worth considering in this whole area. And Nicholas Carr is also onto something important in The Shallows\4/, which I’m planning to read later in the year.

When we come to read our e-Bibles we are going to run into some problems. I just can’t study with an e-Bible because you can’t see enough of the text at once (not even on my 24 inch monitor), or mark it up the way you need to make the study worthwhile. I certainly value tools like Logos, especially to check my rusty Greek and Hebrew, but they are just that: tools, not replacements for the text.

I think we’ve already run into a similar problem in churches that rely on song projection instead of hymn books. Sung praise is becoming more like karaoke than sacred worship. The medium has made the shift possible, and the reason is most likely convenience. The congregation may sing more loudly because they no longer have their faces buried in a book, but I find I’ve forgotten the previous line or two very quickly after singing them, whereas with a hymn book I can understand better what I am singing, and comprehend the meaning much more easily. I can’t think I’m alone in that, advancing age and declining memory notwithstanding. What will be the impact of preaching to a congregation who only have an e-Bible? Shorter sermons that engage the text less critically?

It’s not just the ‘E’s in our food* we need to be concerned about, it’s the ‘e-‘s in our reading that will have a serious impact on our intellectual and spiritual understanding. Since Christians are people of The Book, this should be a serious concern to us. Convenience is not enough to switch to e-Bibles, just as pragmatism is never enough to make informed and safe moral judgments. I’m going to need more convincing before I make e-reading my staple biblical intake. Tim’s articles have confirmed that for me. Moderation and small doses will certainly be my practice for the forseeable future.



1. Tim Challies, ‘5 Reasons Books Are Better Than E-Book’,, 17 Aug 2010, (accessed 7 Sep 2010)

2. ——, ‘5 Reasons E-Books Are Better Than Books’,, 18 Aug 2010, (accessed 7 Sep 2010)

3. ——, ‘Books & E-Books, Media & Messages’,, 20 Aug 2010, (accessed 7 Sep 2010)

4. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010). Carr blogs at Rough Type,



* Approved European food additives all have an ‘E’ prefixed to the universal reference number.

I’m sticking with the perfect technology, too

Yesterday Tim Challies wrote an insightful piece that argues persuasively that books are the perfect technology. I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of the Kindle, though I’ve considered it, but I’m less and less persuaded by the benefits of electronic media for reading. Almost all of my serious reading is done from dead trees, and I think Challies is right when he says, “Despite being printed on dead trees, there is a living quality to books that is lost on e-readers.”

Apart from the way we interact with a real book versus an electronic one, I have some treasured volumes that could never be replaced by electronic copies. They belonged to real people from my past and my family’s past, many now in glory. They have memories that nothing electronic could ever match.

And I’m also sticking to pen(cil) and paper for my serious writing/thinking. I find that I produce much better writing that way than on the computer, though I usually transfer it later to the computer.

No batteries, no booting, just straight down to business: reading, writing, and thinking. Definitely the perfect technology.

Out of step with secular media

Can [preaching] really be simply a passing phenomenon destined to become outdated as we enter a more technologically oriented age of electronic communication media?
(Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p.29)

The Reformation and Evangelical Awakening may have been highlights in recent church history for preaching, but the fathers and apostles practised it, as did the OT prophets. The Bible and church history show it to be more than a passing phase.

Is it outdated? The message is obviously not because the Gospel is timeless. When held against electronic communication media the vast difference in method is apparent. But we must beware of this comparison because we are comparing chalk with cheese.

Electronic media are not communication oriented, at least not in the same way as other media. Neil Postman’s insightful analysis (which is shared by others) has shown us how they do not tend towards information but rather entertainment. Preaching is not entertainment (at least not if engaged in as God intended), and thus does not work in such media, unless great care is taken to ensure that the message is not overwhelmed or lost within the media itself.

Electronic communication media cannot, therefore, be used to outdate preaching. What is clear is that electronic communication media and preaching are out of step with each other, and not only in terms of technique, but ultimately in terms of content, which looks like the main thrust of Goldsworthy’s chapter (which I’ve only just started). This out of stepness is a necessary consequence of being in the world, but not of it.