I recently read a New York Times article that discussed how the Internet is changing the way we think — feeding our growing addiction to information amidst the distractions that ensue as we surf multiple sites, simultaneously or in rapid succession. We troll for weather, news, social media, music, jobs, or any other titillating tidbit all while ads flash at us across the screen because, as the article states, we are “addicted to distraction.”
In fact, our brains love the access to multimedia at our fingertips. As with a drug addiction, the more we get, the more we want. Consequently, we merely skim the surface of content we encounter as the art of going deep into thought has inevitably suffered, threatening to become lost altogether. Not only don’t we read books like we used to; we rarely even bother to finish long articles, instead skimming paragraphs for talking points. More than ever, we are focusing less and multitasking more. Our daily tasks are incessantly interrupted by the sound of incoming messages and our subsequent compulsion to check email, browse sites, and grab our phones for a quick peek, even while driving. (Be honest: How many times have you checked your phone while reading this article?)
Meanwhile, we are thinking and learning at a faster pace than any generation in history. And considering that communication is ever-evolving, we have only to look back in history to observe how technology has impacted our ability to express ourselves to increasing numbers of people at lightning speed Among the positive outcomes of these advancements have been the feats of uniting marginalized people who’d once believed they were alone in their suffering, as well as rallying supporters en masse to change laws, fund causes, out evil-doers, and right wrongs.
So the question now being asked is: Is this “warp speed” access to information harmless, or are there limits we should be imposing? An even deeper question to consider concerns not just the impact on our brains, but also the impact on our hearts. One answer lies within a principle put forth in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Time is one of our greatest treasures, and the more time we invest in online activity, the more time we are inevitably withdrawing from other meaningful areas — a reality which reveals itself in how much less we now communicate in person compared to how much more readily we instead send a quick text.
If time is our treasure, then wheresoever we choose to invest it, our hearts are bound to follow. Considering this phenomenon, we do have to ponder whether the Internet is not just changing our brains but also redirecting our hearts. That is, with the time and attention we may now give one another from a distance, are we maintaining the same depth and focus as we were when more of that time was devoted to one another in person… or are we multi-tasking there too? It is enough to text or email a friend, or do we need to pick up the phone and make time to engage in person?
Considering that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son,” Jesus dwelt among us, in the flesh as one of us, precisely because God understood that it was not enough to merely send prophets, signs, or even miracles to convey His message. This message of love could only be grasped fully by seeing, hearing, and touching the Son of God. Thomas would have never believed that Christ had risen unless he had seen Him, heard His voice, and touched His wounds. Word of mouth from friends was not enough. Likewise, there comes a time when we need to be present and available to each other in the flesh; in this day and age, our challenge is to know WHEN and not forget HOW.
Skimming the Internet is one thing, but we must not forget the power of presence “in the flesh,” the quality of which involves a depth unattainable through technology. Yes, the web has connected people all over the world in ways never before thought possible. Still, there is no substitute for actually being present to listen to someone who needs our focused attention and deserves our heartfelt affection. Furthermore, do we know when to turn it all off and be present with ourselves and our Creator in the silence and stillness of the depths of our inner sanctuary?
We must remember to set aside time for matters of the heart and soul, where time stands still. This matter of the heart is not only the heart of the matter — it is the essence of our humanity, and we must never take it for granted.