Monday, May 30, 2011

The Next Story

Tim Challies has recently written an eye opening book, called The Next Story.

This is a book that needed to be written. It is especially interesting to me as it touches two major parts of my life, Christianity and Technology. I can identify with many of the things Challies wrote. While I am not certain how old Tim Challies is, after reading The Next Story I imagine him to be very close in age to myself. For the things he describes, from the introduction of cell phones and the personal computer to the current state of technology where we are all immersed in a world of screens, ring very true with me.

This book commands your attention starting with the preface. Here, he describes the ultimate devastation brought about by a Soviet bomb, called Tsar Bomba, detonated as a test in 1961. Describing a landscape that was changed forever, he likens the bomb of digital technology to this 26000 pound nuclear device.

The Next Story is divided into two parts. Part 1 covers theology, theory, and experience. Then in Part 2, he turns his attention to areas of application specific to the Christian life.

I was given a hardback paper copy of The Next Story. While I appreciate the gift, when I began reading it I immediately desired to highlight sentences, make my own comments, and share them to my Facebook account, like I've become accustomed to while reading books on my Kindle. I thought of the irony of the fact that I'm reading a book about technology using the "old fashioned" method of paper and ink. Yet, even in this experience Challies proves his points. He asks the question, "Do you own your technology, or does it own you?"

Challies gives us a brief history of technology, specifically as it relates to communication, discussing such subjects as the invention of the printing press, including its role in the Reformation. I had never considered that Gutenberg was a devout Roman Catholic, and that through his invention, the church he loved so dearly would suffer greatly as their monopoly on the Word of God was broken through the low cost distribution of Bibles to the masses. Challies made the point that up to the 1800's information could travel no faster than the speed of a horse. Travel took just as long in 1800 as it did when Christ walked the Earth. Yet that began to change in the 1800's. First, with the invention of the railroad, information and people themselves could travel much faster than the horse. Next, as the telegraph was invented, information could travel instantly across wires. Challies labeled the telegraph as the "Victorian Internet." With the availability of instant communication every area of life began to change; industry, crime, education, entertainment, and so on. Life would never be the same again.

History progressed up to the point of the computer age, where we find ourselves now. Challies described two groups of people in this world: "digital immigrants" who were born before 1980 and "digital natives" who were born in or after 1980. As the personal computer first came to the marketplace between 1976 and 1981, the world began to change again. I was born in 1968, so that places me squarely in the "digital immigrant" group. I was born into a world where computers only existed in business, education, and government. I remember clearly our Southwestern Bell issued telephone hanging on the wall of our kitchen. It was bright yellow, and it had a dial that you turned when calling someone. I remember playing early video games with my dad and brothers. First it was "pong" from a dedicated device that connected to our television, then not too much later, it was our Atari 2600 system. My dad was somewhat "ahead of his time" in that he went to Radio Shack and bought the cables necessary to run a power cord from the cigarette lighter in our van, under the seats, and to the back where my brothers and I had bean bags, along with our Atari and a portable black and white TV, would play games "on the road" as we traveled on vacation. I was the main "technology lover" in my childhood home. I was the one who saved my money to buy our first computer, a Commodore VIC 20. This machine had a whopping 3K of memory (2K less than our Atari 2600!). But using this machine I taught myself binary, learned elementary basic programming, and acclimated myself to living in the digital world that I knew was coming. Today, I support my family by writing computer programs. My degree from the University of Texas at Arlington is in Computer Science Engineering. I can also relate to Challies' description of the "digital native." My three year old can walk up to our computer, start iTunes, and begin listening to whatever he wants. He joins my other children in sighing when they see drivers "texting" while they drive.

Through the invention of the personal computer, our world has changed forever. Challies tells us where the term "luddite" comes from, and why it is next to impossible to completely avoid technology.

The computer, like many other technologies, can be a great tool to help Christians spread the Gospel. It can keep us connected as families and as churches. But like so many helpful things, the computer can quickly bring undesired results into our lives. Constant communication disrupts our family time. In fact, it gives us a constant stimulus to the point where we crave communication, and can't bear the thought of being "out of touch." So beyond the obvious evils that a computer may bring to a family, such as pornography, violence, or other such filth that may infiltrate our minds, the computer can often be set up as an idol in our lives. John Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory. I'm sure that the computer could certainly qualify as an idol in many of our lives.

I am grateful to Tim Challies for writing The Next Story. It is something that needs to be said, particularly if you are 1) a Christian and 2) a technology consumer. It has given me much to think about as I spend most of my waking hours in front of one screen or another. I could certainly relate to the things he describes. Technology is here to stay. We can't control whether it is here or not, but we can work to make wise decisions on how we employ its services in our lives.

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