Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: The Next Story

Technology affects all of us in obvious ways and in subtle ways. In his newest book, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion , Tim Challies seeks to make us think deeply about how our technology has affected our lives and hearts and how we as Christians can live wisely and virtuously in a digital world.

Please don’t let the title of the book scare you: this book is FAR from a technical manual. Challies injects interesting stories and information throughout the book to illustrate his points, which makes for a very easy and enjoyable read. In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable and informative books I’ve read in a long time.

The book is divided into two parts. In Part 1, he explains how God intended technology to function, explains the relationship between people and technology, and gives a historical perspective of our technology. He does a very good job of explaining that there are benefits and costs associated with each technology. The benefits are usually easy to see; the costs are sometimes hidden. He points out that we should seek to understand how a technology will change us before we introduce it into our lives.

Part 2 is the meat of the book and looks at areas of application specific to the Christian life, showing how we can wisely use technology without being used by it. Some of the topics he covers are:

  • The new frontier of constant communication

  • The prominence of mediated communication (where some kind of media stands between us and the rest of the world) vs. face-to-face communication

  • How our technology has led to increased distraction which leads to shallow thinking

  • How increased access to information has decreased our desire to memorize Scripture and made us unable to distinguish between information, knowledge, and wisdom

  • How our society's understanding of Truth has changed - We used to believe that truth was measured by the authority of its source (God's Word); now we are prone to believe that it is measured by consensus (Wikipedia) or relevance (Google).

  • Visibility and Privacy - Our lives are lived before the public today in a way they never have been before.

Throughout the book, he seeks to explain the theory, theology, and experience of our use of technology and how we can live in the space where these three aspects converge. In his own words: that place of thoughtful, technological discernment. In many ways, this is a logical sequel to his first book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.

When you read the book, do not skip the introduction or the epilogue. The introduction sets the scene for the entire book, and the epilogue gives some very practical ways in which Challies himself has tried to make changes in his personal use of media and technology as a result of the research he has done. I found that section particularly helpful.

If I have any criticism at all, it is that I wish he had gone into a little more detail about security (which is slightly different from privacy or visibility, although linked to both of them). However, if he had included any more information about that, I can see how it would have very quickly gone from a spiritual book to a technical manual, so I do understand why he chose not to include it.

If you are reading this blog, you NEED to read this book. If you own a cell phone, you NEED to read this book. If you are a Christian living in the digital age, you NEED to read this book.

THE VERDICT: Highly Recommended

Disclosure: Zondervan sent me a free copy of the book in exchange for me reviewing it on my blog as part of their blog tour. (Sadly, it took me a little longer to read the book than expected, so I’m a little late on the tour. Oops!) At any rate, I was not paid for this post and the opinion expressed is my own. If I had hated the book, I would have told you.

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