A Book Review
I picked up my first smartphone last year. It’s a nice convenience, but I don’t feel tied to it. But then again, I owned an iPad for years before I got my phone. And so I check my iPad regularly for emails, blog posts, and Twitter updates. All of us are immersed in a digital media sea of our own making.
C. Ben Mitchell in How Do We Live in a Digital World? undertakes the task of beckoning Christians to make wise use of digital media. There are other books on the market offering biblical guidance for Christians in how we use our phones, tablets, computers, etc. This particular title is another short and easy to understand volume in a series aimed at Christian undergraduates called “Questions for Restless Minds” from Lexham Press, edited by D. A. Carson. This is a relevant subject for everyone, but one the current generation of “digital natives” should evaluate in light of Scripture.
Mitchell is realistic about the benefits of technology. We access information, connect, and learn. He’s also realistic about the dangers of addiction and increasing disembodiment. He takes the standard tack of citing research to support his arguments, but also offers wisdom from Wendell Berry and, surprisingly, the Luddites. The Luddites were not anti-technology, but pro-community.
One section I found particularly helpful was a contrast between solitude and loneliness. Although often equated, they are not the same. Loneliness is negative. It’s the painful feeling of being alone. Solitude is positive in that someone can be alone and yet still content and constructive (40–41). This is easy to forget when we have instant access to our social networks.
My only complaint is that certain key sections could have been enriched with more of God’s Word and the author’s own voice. While Chapter 3, “The Challenges of Digital Media,” was rich in its use of applicable Scripture references, I felt Chapter 4, “Ways Forward for Thoughtful Christians,” and the concluding chapter fell short in this area. In fact, the conclusion leaves us with words of advice from three separate authors and a suggestion to check www.sabbathmanifesto.org and www.artofmanliness.com. That’s not to say none of these resources are helpful, but I would have appreciated more Scripture and more from the author, who has also clearly devoted much thought to navigating the digital world as a Christian.
For a way forward, this short guide does encourage the reader to step back from total immersion, but it also urges us to recognize that our phones and devices can change us. Not all change is bad. But, like the Luddites who did not want to lose their community to new technology, what do we stand to lose? Solitude? Take breaks from social media. Short breaks are better than no breaks. Presence? The embodied Internet experience promised by the Metaverse will be no less disembodied. We can enjoy the creation our God has made. We can also enjoy what people have created, but this requires wisdom from God so we can thrive.
Special thanks to Lexham Press for providing me with a free review copy of this work. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I’m aware.