Are We Still Thinking?

The White Horse Inn’s latest podcast, Scatterbrains, has been stirring up many reflections in this cluttered mind. Much of the conversation in the podcast was centered on ideas in the book, The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr.  The internet is certainly changing the way that we get information. Is it changing the way we think? Carr thinks so, and provides neurological research to back it up. He admits to his own proclivity to skim for information now, rather than reading deeply: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words, now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.” The old linear thought process is being replaced by short bursts of information, interrupting the very thoughts that are going on in our heads. It’s like an episode of Hoarders, only in our brains. Instead of enjoying a thought in reflection, we shove it in the closet and pile 30 more new pieces of unrelated information on top of it. There’s no relishing in what we have, only lost thoughts starting to stink up the place. “For the last five centuries, books have shaped our minds. It may soon be yesterday’s mind.” The men on the White Horse Inn panel discussed a chapter in Carr’s book called The Church of Google. There’s no denying that there is some value in digitized books, but we need to pay attention to the way we think about reading. In this chapter there is emphasis that the value of a book is not just a pile of data to be mined. Carr refers to the massive library that Google is amassing as a library of snippets. “The great library that Google is rushing to create couldn’t be confused with libraries we’ve known until now. It’s not a library of books, it’s a library of snippets. The strip-mining of relevant content replaces the slow excavation of meaning.” Our new habits are actually changing our brains! When someone says that they don’t see a use for books anymore because they can get all their information from the internet, Michael Horton laments that what they really mean is, “I don’t think anymore, I skim.” I come across so many people that tell me they do not read. I find it so sad. I feel like they are missing out on a whole world of reflection. One comment non-readers usually make to me is, “How do you find the time?” Maybe it is just the way that I receive it, but sometimes I feel like they are insinuating that they are busy doing real work for others, while I may be indulging myself too much. I remember a thoughtful friend asking me once, “How do you do it all?” I told her not to look in my cabinets. My house is clean, but I wouldn’t want my grandma to peek into my children’s towel pantry. She will find that the folded edges are not all facing outward, they are not organized by color, and sometimes they are just crammed in there with the door shut quickly. We spend time cleaning and organizing our closets. And I certainly need to do another gutting of the mini-van. But are we organizing our thoughts? Or are we just allowing the information to pile up every which way, and slamming the door in hopes they will stay contained? Meditating on what we read helps us to do that. How can we get more people reading? One thing I do is host a monthly book club, where everyone reads their own book and provides a review. We love doing this! It keeps us accountable to reading, sharpens our minds as we have to present our thoughts on the book, and gives us an opportunity to share a book that others may not know about. Get your kids reading!! This is a habit that needs to be enforced at a young age. The school system is doing a good job with this goal. Do you enforce it at home? I try to have my kids have a book going for pleasure, and one that I pick out for their growth. My oldest is now happily attending my book club. Loan out what you have. Share good books! If you love it, set it free. If it loves you back, it will return. If you have the funds, do what my mom does and buy extra copies of your favorites to give away. What other ideas do you have to get people reading?