Episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would often show Captain Picard sitting in his office reading from an actual book – not a tablet or computer screen, but a real paper book. I think the writers of the series wanted to show Picard as an intellectual and deep thinker, and they knew having him just read from a tablet device would not give off that impression. But they knew that a book would surely show that the good Captain had a great mind.
I thought of that when I read this quote:
There are modes of learning and thinking that at the moment are only available from actual books. There is a kind of deep-dive, meditative reading that’s almost impossible to do on a screen. Without books, students are more likely to do the grazing or quick reading that screens enable, rather than be by themselves with the author’s ideas.
- William Powers, author of a paper published at Harvard called “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal” (source)
I find in my own experience that this statement rings very true. When I try to read something on a screen, I find myself more often than not “grazing,” not reading. My mind cannot focus as deeply on screen text and I usually cannot stay with the material very long. Yet when I read an actual (paper) book, I am much more able to do the “deep-dive” reading that Powers describes. This is why if I find something on the Internet that I really want to digest, I print it out.
This brings up an interesting question that all Christians should contemplate: how will this affect our biblical literacy? The Bible is the most important text we as Christians have in our possession, and it contains the story of God’s unbelievable love for His people. Yet the Bible is a challenging text to read – it consists of widely varying genres from quite diverse cultures (diverse from our own and even at times from each other). There is no question that the Bible requires the “deep-dive, meditative reading” that Powers says is “almost impossible to do on a screen.” So what does this mean? If we as a society transform into an entirely screen-based reading society, will our knowledge of the Scriptures begin to fade? Will we be able to delve deeply into the Word of God? Powers says that only paper allows a reader to be able to “be by themselves with the author’s ideas.” What happens when the author is God?
One could argue that our inability to do deep reading on the screen is simply due to it being a new media, and that future generations will be able to read meditatively even from a screen, as that will be the only reading that they will know. But what if that is not the case? What if the human mind simply cannot process words from a screen as well as it processes words on paper?
Can the Word become flesh in pixel form?