Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Unprofessional Book Review: The Next Story by Tim Challies

I've always got something going on - be it my computer screen, my Kindle, my iPod touch, my PS3, or my Macbook. There is always a screen seeking some kind of response from around me. Frankly, it's overwhelming. On the one hand, I like to think that these gadgets are making me more productive and knowledgeable (especially the Playstation) - although I'm beginning to doubt this is really the case.

I'm going to keep this review short and sweet since this has been a well-reviewed and well-received book. I'm going to speak to the aspects of the book which most strongly-addressed my own personal concerns about technology and living in the digital age. But let me say from the outset that with this book, Challies has addressed almost every area of my own life that I have been either troubled or befuddled by with regard to technology.

I appreciated Tim Challies' opening chapters which chart the nostalgic (remembering using my first Apple II in grade school) course of how we were brought to this technological point in human history. I also appreciated his development of a theology of technology early on. However, I think the greatest value of this book is found in the second half where guys like me get a much needed practicality-slap in the face. The truth is, knowing things is not the same thing as learning things. I always knew that this constant influx of information was making it harder for me to concentrate and focus on individual ideas for more than 15 minutes at a time. Challies knows it, too, and he says we need to fight this tendency - all the while he manages not to guilt you into throwing out your Macbook.

When Challies, on pages 131-134 says that we need to identify and destroy our distractions while cultivating concentration, he's talking to me and everyone like me who have fooled ourselves into thinking that reading information counts as gaining real knowledge.
Yes, you practiced being distracted, and you managed to get better and better at it (congratulations!). Eventually you rewired your brain in such a way that it craves distraction and fights against concentration. The practice it took to become a distracted person proves that practice will be involved in overcoming distraction.
Also, his advice of a "digital fast" may sound gimmicky to the more cynically minded, but when you actually try to do it, you start to see your idols. "The more difficult this sounds and the more difficult it proves to be, the more important it will be for you to do it" (133).

The Next Story is necessary reading for Christians in our digital generation. My guess is, in ten years, the revised and expanded edition of this book will be necessary reading for our children, since the heart of what Challies is saying in this book really addresses a new generation who lives in the public eye at all times, perpetually distracted, and confused about the difference between gathering information and actually learning. These are problems that will persist as long as we have continuous knowledge, continuous community, and hearts that desire to know God and yet often can't see the stars through the city lights.

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