I was expecting a lot from Tim Challies’ new book, The Next Story: Life and faith after the digital explosion. But it has far surpassed my expectations.Thinking that I already knew quite a lot about the subject, and also confident that I already knew much of Tim’s thinking on it, when I first saw the book I thought, “Hey, I’ll skim this in a couple of hours.” I’ve not read a book so slowly for a long time. Not that it’s difficult to understand. It is just so substantive and thought-provoking. It took me to a whole new level, even dimension, of thinking about the impact of digital technology on me and my world. I found myself reading a paragraph, pausing, reflecting, praying; reading a paragraph, pausing…etc. Three hours later, I was only at chapter three. Two weeks and many hours later, I’ve read the book through twice, and already know that it’s going to join my small pile of annual re-reads (if I can get it back from my wife). I certainly want my teenage sons to read it; and I look forward to discussing it with them as I try to set them on a good foundation of digital virtue. I’d also recommend that congregations buy quantities of the book and ensure that each family gets a copy. It could be the best bit of pastoring you do this year (I think Ligonier have the best deal at the moment). I thought about writing a book review. However, Tim’s been such a good friend and Christian brother to me, I knew I couldn’t write it with any kind of objectivity. I’ll leave that to others. Instead, I thought I would provide the questions I wrote out for myself as I read the book, questions that I now intend to use as a kind of annual or bi-annual digital inventory for self-examination. I hope others may also find them useful. Chapter 1: Discerning Technology 1. Do I own my digital technology or does it own me? Does it serve me or am I its slave? Do I use it to serve God or is the Devil using it to enslave me? 2. Am I keeping abreast of research into the impact and influence of technology on me and my world? Am I applying theology to technology? 3. Has my technology become an idol, or an enabler of idols? Chapter 2: Understanding Technology 4. Do I evaluate the downside/risk of any new technology before I buy it or use it? 5. Do I understand how each particular medium communicates a message, and even shapes and distorts it? 6. Am I analyzing how technology is not only re-shaping the world (society, culture, morals), but also the church, the family, and even myself (my brain, my relationships, my personality)? Chapter 4: Communication 7. Am I abusing the new tools of communication to serve the idol of productivity? 8. Am I seeking significance and self-worth in the number of Twitter followers, blog subscribers, and Facebook friends I have? 9. Am I addicted to information? 10. Are my digital communications serving as a substitute for face-to-face relationships, or even spiritual communication with God? 11. Do I ever choose anonymity over visibility? 12. Am I open and honest in my accountability? 13. Is my online persona real or partly an act? Chapter 5: Mediation 14. Are my best and most valued relationships mediated (conducted through an electronic medium) or face-to-face? 15. Am I consciously pursuing less mediation in my relationships? 16. Is my local church community more important to me than any online community I’m part of?
Chapter 6: Distraction 17. When I wake up, do I read my Bible and pray before any electronic communication? 18. Am I carving out and securing significant amounts of uninterrupted time for deep and focused thinking? 19. What am I doing to make time for contemplation and meditation? Am I taking regular digital sabbaths? 20. What am I doing to preserve and strengthen my reading skills in an age of distraction and skim reading? 21. How long a period of time can I go without connecting with the digital world? Am I seeking to extend and stretch such periods? 22. How am I teaching my family to use technology? Am I a good role model? Chapter 7: Information 23. Has information become an end in itself (informationism), or am I processing information so that it becomes knowledge and then wisdom? 24. Am I cultivating and developing my memory or increasingly relying on Google? 25. Am I rationing and regulating information flow to ensure quality over quantity? Chapter 8: Truth and Authority 26. Am I watchful about how ultimate authority and objective truth are being redefined and undermined by Internet authority models of consensus and relevance? 27. What am I doing to promote God’s Word as the ultimate authority and perfect witness to the truth? Chapter 9: Visibility and Privacy 28. Are my digital footprints in paths of righteousness? Would my ministry be finished if my online habits were “Wiki-leaked?” 29. Am I promoting myself or my Lord? 30. Have I confessed my digital sin and found forgiveness in the blood of Christ that washes whiter than snow? Am I daily seeking and depending upon the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit to help me use digital technology for God’s glory?