There’s a major difference between a Bible that sits on a shelf and one that is actually read. In the past we couldn’t measure how much people read their bibles, we could only accurately measure how many Bibles were out there. But now that people are reading Scripture on their digital devices, we can tell how involved they are.
Christianity Today recently published an article by Robert C. Crosby called “The Social Network Gospel.” This article highlights an interesting vocabulary shift for those involved in Bible dissemination. “For centuries, the buzzword was distribution, with a focus on quantity delivered. The new buzzword is engagement.” To put this another way, “My bookshelf may hold three copies, but my smartphone can hold 300 versions.” Access is no longer the problem; with digital scripture we now have access to the point of redundancy–the question therefore is no longer ‘how do we get Scripture into people’s hands?’, it’s “how do we get people to engage the word of God now that they have access to it?’
According to this article, those who have done the best so far at engaging people digitally with Scripture have four things to teach us:
- Initiative. “aggressive learn-as-you-go approaches are trumping calculated study-first strategies.”
- Responsiveness. “Remembering that there is a soul on the other end, and responding promptly, are vital to online engagement.”
- Frequency. “The digital environment welcomes raw attempts and quickly forgives trial-and-error efforts that are promptly corrected and adapted with improvements.”
- Saturation. “a constant awareness of reaching broadly—that a small impact on one soul has the potential of reaching thousands more in a short span of time.”
These are helpful principles for driving digital engagement and I applaud what this article stands for; nevertheless, I lament that speed and efficiency are valued in this article without any recognition that the medium is shaping the message. Digital devices are designed to encourage multi-tasking and productivity during every gap moment in your day. Cell phones and tablets are therefore distraction tools, which means that reading scripture on them presents a serious challenge for deep engagement with God’s word (see my previous post on this topic). The principles listed above to make Bible engagement successful on digital tools are therefore a good reminder that digital mediums are more concerned with speed and efficiency than traditional bible study disciplines like meditation and memorization, or lectio divina.
Perhaps to help balance this problem we could build into our Bible apps a tool that blocks access to all other multitasking features for a limited time, including the phone. When I was a kid my mom would take the phone of the hook whenever she wanted to nap or pray and read her Bible. If an emergency were to arise users could type in a long password, or reboot the machine before regaining access to the other features of the device. This is similar to programs like Freedom, Cold Turkey, or Anti-Social, which provide the same service for improving your productivity while working on a computer. At the very least it would help us acknowledge that our tools shape the way we approach Scripture.
What do you think, should Bible apps include a feature like this?
- Multitasking and Scripture (joshchalmers.wordpress.com)
- How the Omnipresent Cellphone Trains Our Brains to be Distracted (joshchalmers.wordpress.com)