Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

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Bible Engagement in a Digital Age

Technology writer, Richard Carr, suggests that books and book reading are in their “cultural twilight.” Some may disagree with Carr, but we can’t ignore the fact that innovation and change brought about by the digital revolution are reshaping the way people read.

In my lifetime I’ve moved from exclusively reading a printed page to reading text on a smart phone, laptop screen, e-reader or tablet. Cognitive neuroscientist, Maryanne Wolf, classifies this change as a shift from the reading brain to the digital brain. Like it or not, our new reading habits involve profound technological, cultural, behavioural, and even neurological changes.

Cellular phones, which increasingly provide Internet access, are now used by more than 75 percent of the world’s population. According to a June 2012 article in the Globe and Mail, Canadians are on track to achieving a wireless penetration rate that exceeds 100 percent by 2015. Hong Kong has surpassed this penetration rate – the Office of the Telecommunications Authority reports more than 13 million cell phones being used by the total population of 7.5 million people. That’s about 1.8 cell phones per person!

According to mathematician Vernor Vinge, and Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, we can expect the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies separated by shorter and shorter time intervals. That to say that changes in the way we communicate and access information will continue to accelerate.

So how does the digital age influence Bible engagement? Consider the following:

  • the Bible is being read in multiple formats in an ever emerging variety of forms on a growing range of devices
  • availability and access to different Bible versions and translations are continuing to increase
  • greater access to audio Bibles and podcasts may help us become better “hearers” of the Word
  • sharing thoughts and insights about the Bible is increasing due to social networks like facebook and Linkedin
  • interactive software programs/systems, hypertext, blogs, posts and webinars uniquely facilitate biblical study and reflection
  • sharing favourite or meaningful verses is increasing due to texting and tweeting
  • the individual’s opportunity and capacity to understand and interpret the Scriptures will increase
  • missions could prosper because nations closed to the Gospel will find it more difficult to restrict the availability of biblical texts
  • the Scriptures are readily available in any language or translation to anyone on earth with a smart phone
  • Scripture memorization may decline because Google, Bible Gateway, You Version and such make it easy to look up a passage or text
  • people will become significantly less likely to buy printed copies of the Bible
  • reading Scripture within a contemplative framework may decline
  • sequential reading will decline due to the fact that reading on the web develops inclinations to skip around, dip and dabble, browse or scan information
  • tendencies to read the Bible in short fast bursts will increase
  • concentration and meditation on the Scriptures will suffer because of what Cory Doctorow has called “an ecosystem of interruption technologies” (animations, hyperlinks, live feeds, pop-ups and so on)
  • qualitative depth of reading will be sacrificed for reading geared to a quantitative scope
  • e-books may augment a predisposition to uncouple content from form which may lead to tendencies to view the Scriptures as something detached from their incarnational form – the textual equivalent of Cartesian dualism
  • the role of the local church in the transmission and interpretation of the Scriptures will decline

Without a doubt the positive and negative effects of the digital age represent a challenge for the Church. Hopefully we’ll do what’s necessary to curb the negative effect of technologies while simultaneously encouraging the use of emerging technologies that facilitate and advance engagement with the Bible.

Have your say. What would you add or subtract from the comments above.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013