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THE WORD AND TOO MANY WORDS

THE WORD AND TOO MANY WORDS

WORDS“This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth: you shall meditate on it day and night; so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.”
Joshua 1:8

I think of David Gelernter as one of our country’s wise persons, and one of our most provocative thinkers. As professor of computer science at Yale University he is looked up to as one of the world’s most brilliant and visionary computer scientists. He also holds advanced degrees in Hebrew; his writings combine ancient wisdom with cutting edge technology. So I paid attention to a recent article by Gelernter about the New Year, titled “What Should We Be Worried About?”
Gelernter says that what most worries him is what he calls “Internet drivel”. (Yes, I know you’re probably reading my musings on the Internet!) Gelernter laments the degrading effect of the inflation of words coming at us:

If we have a million photos, we tend to value each one less than if we only had ten. The Internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average word’s value on many axes…The Internet’s insatiable demand for words creates a global deflation in the value of words.

Truthfully, I did read Gelernter’s words on the Internet, but I am also starting to worry about “Internet drivel”. With so much at my fingertips each day I am concerned about the “general devaluation” of words, and wonder what it will mean for all of us who love the Word.

Long before the computer, digital printing and eBooks, T. S. Eliot grieved for “the knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word…wisdom lost in knowledge…knowledge lost in information” (from poem, “The Rock”). It is estimated that by 2020 the collective body of knowledge will double every 72 days. But can we say that we are becoming any wiser, any more compassionate, or happy?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to turn back the clock on the computer or digital books, but I want to be more disciplined in this New Year so that the Internet serves me, rather than me serving it. What the French educator and Dominican, A. G. Sertillanges, warned about excessive reading, I would apply to my excessive Internet use:

The first rule is to read little…What we are proscribing is the passion for reading, the uncontrolled habit, the poisoning of the mind by excess of mental food, the laziness in disguise which prefers easy familiarity with others’ thoughts to personal effort.

The passion for reading which many pride themselves on as a precious intellectual quality, is in reality a defect; it differs in no wise from the other passions that monopolize the soul…The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production. (A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods)

I think now of today’s Scripture from the Book of Joshua. I find nothing new here, nothing high tech, but simply God’s ancient command that we mediate on His Word “day and night.” Then, God says, we will truly be “prosperous” and find true “success.” We will be more wise, compassionate, and happy.

I’m planning to turn off my computer more in 2015 and put aside my smart phone more often, so I can reflect more on God’s Word and discover what He is saying to me.

Grace and peace,
Tim

photo by Pierre Metivier

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