Beneath the Surface

When carried into the realm of the intellect, the industrial ideal of efficiency poses, a potentially mortal threat to the pastoral ideal of contemplative thought" (Nicholas Carr, The shallows).

T

There is a lot of commotion in the teaching industry around generational learning. The premise lays in the different approaches that consecutive generations take when it comes to education. Take the baby-boomers generation, most of them like to learn in a linear fashion, read books (actually finish them) and they feel comfortable in a traditional class setting. As you move up toward the newer generations however, the situation changes. The reading pattern is not linear anymore, the learning is blended, books are abruptly loosing importance and the all mighty Internet gains more and more acceptance, sweeping in its path all that we traditionally knew about classrooms and written homework.

As an avid consumer of e-media, but not a native of the electronic age, I find myself trapped between these two worlds. I thrive daily from the efficiency of the information blazing through the Internet, but still enjoy deepening myself in the aroma of a good book on a lazy afternoon. Not that I have many of those… From this perspective I have the luxury of being able to look somewhat objective at both these worlds that are spreading apart, one going into extinction, the other one evolving into an unknown and vastly unpredictable creature.

The mirage of electronic media consists in the almost scaring efficiency to store and transmit information. An entire library can fit now in a Kindle e-reader the size of a magazine. The incredible accessibility opening in front of millions of people renders the traditional libraries and bookstores obsolete. Who would want to spend the time to do a library search when they can access the same info from the comfort of their couch?

There is however a price to pay for this technology, as Nicholas Carr puts it in a recent article, “Media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought[1] Today we read differently, we learn differently and dare I to say we are also starting to think think differently.

The bargaining chip of the classic intellectuals used to be knowledge, information. A doctor for instance had to go through years of medical school and hundreds of textbooks to be able to put a correct diagnosis. Today anyone can access the Internet databases and self diagnose any disease. The problem is that in most cases the information one gets is only very superficial and lacks any understanding of its deep collateral ramifications. That’s why, in most cases, although people have their information, their diagnosis is wrong. They call this cyberchondria. A real doctor on the other hand that has taken the time to deepen his understanding of each sign and symptom, reaching a higher level of understanding well beneath the surface, will be able to make the correct call.

This is what the Internet does to us: it takes away the depth of knowledge and makes us settle in the shallows. Repeated every day it becomes our way of doing everything. We become wanderers through the hyperlinks of life, not making any effort to descend bellow the shiny surface of what surrounds us. The danger in this case is not just that we might misdiagnose a simple cold, but that we might misunderstand the very essence of life.

Efficiency is critical in our lives, agree, technology is helping us get there, but we also need contemplation. Some things just need to soak with us longer so we can comprehend them. This is particularly important in our spiritual lives. One area that is particularly affected by a superficial living is prayer. Prayer cannot be done in front of a computer screen using a search engine; prayer is not a quick afterthought while we hurry to beat the rush hour. Prayer needs time to penetrate into our minds and from there into our hearts. A minute or two a day in between errands is not enough.

We have contracted this contagious tendency to rush through everything, even Church services. We want them shorter and shorter. But where do we rush? To the things of the world; the same world that treats everything with superficiality and misdiagnoses the very meaning of life.

We have no time for our souls because we fail to understand the implications of this missed opportunity. We fail to understand that this life it is the only chance we get to develop a meaningful relationship with God; a relationship that takes time to develop. How can we get to know God if we spend so little time with Him, when we get only erratic and trivial information about Him? How can we love Him if we only want to meet Him online in a chat room? Some things just cannot be replaced by technology.

There are no shortcuts to heaven, only an everlasting effort to know God more every day by giving Him our full, undivided attention. We need to take the time to meditate upon our existence and make efforts to adjust it to match what is required from us.

”Be therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Date posted: July 6, 2010