Is the World Wide Web playing a part in rewiring our brains? What does God say about trends in thinking in the end time?
A while back I read a fascinating and troubling book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a Pulitzer Prize finalist written by Nicholas Carr. The genesis of the book was the moment the author realized his thinking had changed. He, a man who earns his living by writing, could no longer concentrate on long passages of text; his attention would wander after a page or two.
He realized this change was due to all the time we, in our modern, tech-driven world, now spend on the Internet. On the web, information comes in very short texts, interspersed with embedded video or audio and distracting hyperlinks inviting us to go look at something else before we even finish what we’re reading.
Try this test. Ask yourself: How much can I read, either on paper or online, before getting distracted, fidgety and wanting to move on?
Rewiring our brains
The use of the Internet is actually reshaping our brains. Literacy, the ability to read, allowed a revolution in human thinking. Information could be transmitted over time and space. Literate people developed the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, to mentally follow complicated lines of reasoning, to contemplate transcendent concepts.
The brain of someone who reads is not shaped exactly like the brain of an illiterate person because our brains develop along the lines of the uses to which they are put.
Heavy Internet use is also reshaping our brains, and research shows that many people are losing the ability to concentrate for longer periods and to think deeply about complex concepts. It’s too much work. Short texts, photos and video are much easier to process and more entertaining.
To lose the ability or desire to read and concentrate on what we read is to distance ourselves from God.For Christians this trend should be alarming. Our God reveals Himself, His plan, the purpose of our existence and His laws for life—all in writing. In fact, they are in lengthy, not always easy-to-read texts. To lose the ability or desire to read and concentrate on what we read is to distance ourselves from God.
Jesus said in John 5:39: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (King James Version). Studying the Word of God is vital and indispensable, as the psalmist recognized: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). We must not lose the desire or ability to read the Word of God.
Shallow thinking ahead
A troubling chapter in The Shallows explains that as we become more dependent on the Internet to store information for us (we in effect “outsource” our memories), we become less able to remember things on our own, which in turn makes us shallow thinkers.
As our ability to concentrate and remember weakens, we lose some of our ability to exercise control over our own thought processes. We just go with the Internet flow.
Perilous times from wrong thinking
A Bible prophecy for the time just before the return of Jesus Christ states that human thinking will have become shallow and entirely self-absorbed:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
If and when people lose the ability or desire to think abstractly and to control their thoughts, they will be left only with what they feel, and what they feel will be mostly about themselves, not others and not God. This is prophesied for the time ahead us, and our increasing dependence on the Internet may be hastening that day.
Don’t slip into the shallows
I’m not suggesting that we stop using the Internet entirely; that’s not a realistic possibility for many of us. But we must be aware of how Internet use is changing our thinking. We must control our use of the Internet and not allow it to control us. And we must discipline ourselves to continue a deep and regular study of the Word of God.
As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to slip into the shallows.