Digital Scripture: Does the iBible Change How We Read Scripture?

Does the medium affect the message when it comes to Scripture? I was thinking about this quite a lot after I read a blog post titled iBible by Mike Wittmer. Wittmer asked this challenging question: “Is it hard to remember that you are reading God’s revelation when you are reading it on the same screen that you check email, surf the Internet, return texts, and bomb angry birds?” I think so!

I know that when I am reading on my iPod, PC, or even my Kindle, I am much more likely to suddenly think of something that feels really urgent that I should quickly look up using the device than when I read with a hard copy of a book. The easiest way to solve this problem is to unplug the Internet or turn off the wireless while you are trying to focus. Of course most of us don’t have that kind of discipline, which explains why its now possible to buy a software program called Freedom; its only purpose is to make it possible for you to lock yourself off of the Internet for however long you feel you need to focus.

One of the best metaphors for what I am talking about is the hyperlink, which, as Nicholas Carr points out in The Shallows, is “designed to grab our attention.” Carr demonstrates this by citing a study which demonstrates that every time you see a hyper-link your brain has to evaluate whether you will click on it or not. Apparently you recall a lot less when the medium you are using to read includes hyper-links.

If “multitasking is junk food for the brain,” then how can we teach our young people to be solely focused on God when we give Scripture to them in a digital format. It is like asking them to use just one tool in a swiss-army knife, while ignoring all the other fun options!

Soren Kierkegaard understood that Scripture demands are whole attention; a long time ago, even before there were digital devices to contribute to this problem, he said: “take Holy Scripture and lock your room,” for “the person who is not alone with God’s Word is not reading God’s word.”

Having said all this let me quickly hit the other side of the issue. If you haven’t checked out YouVersion yet, there are some cool benefits of using a digital Bible. For example, if you forget to do your daily Bible reading you can get the program to email your accountability partner; another example that traditional books can’t do is that the program can read aloud to you; finally, you can join a social community at your church or with fellow Christians online and add public notes, earn badges for completing your reading,  highlight special verses, or upload passages to Twitter or Facebook with a program like this. All of these added benefits may cause a person to stick with a reading plan when in the past they might have failed without the multi-tasking like nature of a hard copy of the Bible.

To conclude then, most of the people who have responded to Wittmer’s question at the start of this blog entry claim that they are not distracted when they read scripture on their devices. Nevertheless, I am thankful that the first Bible my daughter owns does not exist only inside of an iPad, but is actually an old fashioned Picture Bible given to her by her Grandma. I’m afraid though that many of her friends may never have hard copies of God’s word.

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