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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Was Solomon Wrong?

Solomon wrote, "Of making many books there is no end" (Ecc 12:12). I wonder if Solomon was wrong.

I know. It has been predicted in the past. And it was wrong. But it just seems like ... well, let me explain.

For decades now we've been living in a new world. Where the primary means of communication used to be face to face and a key means of passing on information and ideas was the printed word, we moved back in the 60's to the world of images. Television introduced us to an entirely different means of communication, a means in which we have been fed video rather than text. And it has altered our reality.

Text, you see, is managed by a different part of the brain than audio and video. Text requires analysis. You need to recognize the character as a letter and understand how that letter fits with the string of other letters to form a word. That word needs to connect in your mind with an idea that has meaning. Then you have to figure out what that string of words means in its entirety (with all the nuances of grammar, spelling, and punctuation). Finally you have to sew together the sentences to form a complete message, including the thoughts and the images that the message includes. In a video world, however, you are fed completed messages without the need for words. They can bypass the analytical portion of your brain entirely. Like music, they can go straight into your intuitive portion and feed off your emotions without the need for critical examination. Studies have shown, for instance, that your brain is more active when you are asleep than when you watch television.

Of course, the progress of the digital age hasn't minimized that condition; it has exacerbated it. It has so aggravated it that many people don't even know what "exacerbate" means. Science tells us that the image-based medium is a primary cause of Attention Deficit Disorder. But we don't need science to get that the video world operates at a much higher speed than a text-based world. And so we push the limits of text, of books, in our digital world.

That alone wouldn't spell the end of books. I don't see a fundamental difference between reading a book on paper and reading a book on a Kindle, for instance. But to me the biggest threat to books is the video medium we've come to know and expect. The blogging experts will tell you that your blogs should not exceed 250 words. Why? Because people won't read much more than that. Most Internet users know the acronym, "TL/DR" -- "too long/didn't read". It's an axiom of modern living. Skimming is the new reading. Videos are the new writing. We are so driven by screens and images that we barely have the time or patience to actually read a book, either on paper or the screen. How long, then, will it be before our vastly shortened attention spans can no longer absorb a book?

Solomon wrote that there was no end of making books. Solomon may have been mistaken. Our modern, fast-paced, video-driven, ultra-shallow world today threatens to remove books, to eliminate lengthy dialog, to silence thinking in favor of the immediate and short-term momentary pleasure of seeing and hearing and feeling. And while many may think, "Yeah, so?", this would be a problem for those who take God seriously when He commands us "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37). Some will respond, "TL/DR" and others will skim it and say, "Mind? No, not at all, thanks."

(And this post of 631 words is a fail among today’s blogs.)

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