Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: The Hyperlinked Life


This year, the Barna Group released a series of short books they're calling Frames. It stems from the realization that people have a hard time finishing books they start, but still have a desire to be informed. The tagline for the series is, "short yet meaningful reads on top issues facing us in today's complex culture. A new kind of book....to help you read less, and know more."

While I don't personally state that reading less is a goal, having quality material written concisely is something of value. I picked up 4 frames off paperbackswap.com and I'll highlight the one on technology today.

The co-authors bring a great balance of experience to the material Jun Young is a former Microsoft employee and a doctorate in communications form UW. David Kinnaman is the author of several books and president of Barna. Kinnaman & Young set out to ask thoughtful questions about how today's technology is affects us and to create a theology of information.


49% of Millennials say that their personal electronics sometimes separate them from other people. The psychological & emotional impact of ubiquitous connectivity is distinct. Constantly refocusing mental attention from the task at hand to answer the siren call of the chirping iPhone is changing the way we think, act, believe, and behave. The authors to a great job of not simply vilifying technology, but rather call the reader to a higher level of engagement.

The amount of content that reaches our minds daily is beyond comprehension, especially when compared to past decades and generational experience. Dallas Willard once said, "We pick up beliefs like a coat picks up lint." So, as we read articles off Facebook, random blogs posted by friends (thanks for reading by the way), and the incessant push of the advertising machine, we've reached the point where most folks only believe about 50% of what they read. Yet on some level, even the material we consume that we don't believe, has some sort of impact.

That leads right to the heart of the matter that Kinnaman & Young present: we need wisdom. A simple and timely call. To help down that path they conclude the frame with 7 recommendations, all of which are timely and positive things to think through for the modern citizen. They range from giving and being mentored, taking an honest inventory of one's personal hyperlinked habits, and participating in a digital Sabbath.

One take away for me is trying to integrate a regular period of time that I practice digital sabbath (eg: times when my phone isn't in my pocket). Right now, I'm leaning towards family meals around the dinner table. Once I get home from work, placing my phone in night mode on the bookshelf, until we're done sitting around the dinner table. This still allows me to do fulfill my job expectations of being on call (it'll still ring if someone calls), but we won't hear or be subject the pavlovian inducing tones of the email chime or non-emergency texts while dining together (and by dining together I mean constantly reminding the kids to sit on their seats and not leave the table until they are excused) (Oh, and to eat their veggies).

The last piece I'd like to highlight is the final of the 7 recommendations they give. "Be more discerning about whom to trust." The authors then give a series of questions to help discern which content to give attention to. Some questions proposed that really resonate to me: 1. Who or what organization is producing this material? 2. What is their reason for doing so? 3. Do I believe this information simply because it confirms my preexisting viewpoint on the subject? 4. What is this information (picture/video/etc) asking me to love?

Such an appropriate perspective from that last question. What is this ______ asking me to love? Is this information pushing me to love the things Jesus loves? Is it asking me to feel jealous of someone or superior for having a better point of view? The authors conclude, "Our culture is more complex, in large part due to the technologies of the world we inhabit. Ironically, life seems harder for many of us, not easier. But maybe all we really need is to relearn wisdom. Of course, wisdom will always be more than a click away."

I highly recommend this book. It asks timely questions and provides a research based snapshot of where our culture is at in relation to technology. There are 9 frames in season 1, and I imagine that at least a few of the topics covered will be of use to anyone interested in gaining wisdom.