By Len Wilson
We are 24/7 digital now. It’s been coming for decades (see: Being Digitalby Nicholas Negroponte, 1995) but it seems that at some point in an undetected coup the pods arrived and avatars silently commandeered our analog selves. Now we move around in a state of comatose hyperactivity, staring at our devices.
The prefix “hyper” is intriguing for the connotations of busy and digital. It refers to linkable online text and is an apropos moniker for the warp speed at which we now keep our schedules. If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube, pull up a film or video made in the 1990s and fall asleep.
The Book’s Premise
The magnitude of these changes is the subject of the book The Hyperlinked Life: Live with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload by Jun Young and David Kinnaman. It’s part of a series of mini-books by Barna and Zondervan called Frames, which aims to create short (i.e., buyable) books for the hyperati. The books are maybe a quarter of the length of a traditional book and feature four colors, small trim size and lots of infographics. They’re like a paper version of a blog series.
I focus on the format because, depending on your point of view, it either embodies or counters the premise of the book.
Depending on your point of view, the format either embodies or counters the premise of the book.
I say embodies the premise because the book spends the first three quarters laying brick for the claim that our life is now hyper. Most of the authors’ arguments are familiar to anyone who has read on the sociology of technology:
- our life is increasingly fast-paced.
- we’re going through a communications “revolution”
- technology changes us
- there’s an upside to what’s happening
- there’s a downside to what’s happening
The authors provide interesting data to support their arguments, including a variety of new Barna research on digital consumption, comparing all age groups to millennials. But, for those who have read something deeper than a blog post, the format of the book makes the strongest argument that our digital life is changing us.
(Full disclosure: I like longer books and I have been exploring the intersection of faith and technology for a long time. My first book, The Wired Church, addressed the ecclesiological implications of technology. More recently, here is a post I wrote on the sociology of technology called, Is Technology Changing What It Means to Be Human?)
The Book’s Promise
The landscape is undeniable. (Over a fourth of you are reading this on a cell phone.) The question is what to do about it.
I say the format contradicts the premise because of the last fourth of the 86 page book, which addresses the subtitle’s promise. Young and Kinnaman provide what is perhaps a hyper definition of wisdom (“being smart about how to live a meaningful life while being humble enough to admit we have a lot to learn”). They suggest several antidotes that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the confluence of spirituality and technology, such as “digital detox,” planned hiatuses from social media and so on.
Unfortunately, don’t look for many new or in-depth insights about either the sociological implications of digital technology or an in-depth pursuit of wisdom. About the deepest this hyper book explores the sociology of technology are rehashed tropes from McLuhan and Postman. If you’ve read any book on Christianity and technology in the last twenty years then you’ve already read this book. And unfortunately, the format belies the sort of reflection through which wisdom emerges. If you want wisdom, check out Dallas Willard.
Three out of five stars