A Mental World vs. Physical Reality
When we think about being online a lot—and the average person is online a lot—there are statistics that say that we’re checking email for anywhere from three to four hours per day. And we’re on social media for about that same length of time every day. So that is a solid eight hours or so of online consumption.
And so when you ask, How could that be shaping us? Well, the real answer is, How could it not be shaping us? This is where we are putting our attention. This is where we’re doing most of our reading, most of our work, most of our communication, and even things like digitally mediated worship.
And so what that does is it trains us to expect certain things out of our lives. For example, we tend to think that everything should be immediately available because that’s how things are online. And so we kind of develop this impatience with regular life, which tends to be delayed and not as instantly gratifying as we might wish. We tend to view things through the lens of convenience and efficiency rather than the difficulty of maybe making a phone call or having a face-to-face conversation. As we are immersing ourselves in online technology, it becomes very difficult to imagine the world in a different way.
The Bible identifies us as embodied creatures who need the real world that God has made—not simply the mental world of the internet.
We just become attuned to this way of living and we think that this is the way life should go. And that poses challenges for us spiritually because the Bible identifies us as embodied creatures who need the real world that God has made—not simply the mental world of the internet. And so that’s one way that the internet is pushing our consciousness in a specific direction.
Samuel James is the author of Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom in an Online Age.
Our work, education, relationships, and even worship are increasingly happening digitally. Our tendency is often to think of these technologies as just neutral “tools." But this is not quite right.
Wisdom is knowing where you're going and sticking to that. Foolishness is straying off the path, being susceptible to people on the periphery calling for your attention.
In what sense are the Internet and social media potentially valuable for wisdom? We know the many downsides to online life. What are the upsides?
Samuel James sets forth a distinctly Christian theology of technology, one that is profoundly realistic about its power, both for good and evil.