New Book Coming Soon!

I am happy to announce that in early September, Basilian Media & Publishing will be publishing a new book that I have co-authored with Joshua Pauling! Titled We’re All Cyborgs Now: Technology and the Christian Faith, the book aims to equip Christians to think discerningly about the challenges and opportunities of life in the digital age.

The majority of the book is philosophical and theological, developing concepts I have been exploring in my articles at The Symbolic World. That said, we do have some chapters about the practicalities of information literacy and digital boundaries, which has been a recurring theme at this blog. Here is a snippet of chapter 30 about the need for digital boundaries:

Many parents who have a no-tolerance policy with smartphones, when they do finally let their child have a phone, allow complete unsupervised access. One reason for this is because the type of parents who are technologically skeptical tend to have personalities that make them less incentivized to learn and pass on good digital habits. After all, if the phone is perceived as evil, why spend time learning and passing on the skills and virtues for leveraging it responsibly? But there is an irony on the other side. The parents who are most pro-technology tend also not to be interested in helping their children develop skills and virtues for leveraging digital devices effectively, let alone developing the type of attention and boundaries that enable one to flourish in the digital ecosystem. Such parents may even dismiss such discussions as legalistic or “Luddite.” Ironically, therefore, both technological utopians and technological rejectionists end up depriving their sons and daughters of the skills and virtues needed to use digital technology wisely and effectively.

The solution to these extremes is to reject binary thinking in favor of prudence. Here we can learn a lesson from our approach to automobiles. I (Robin) have written elsewhere about how the automobile has had a detrimental impact on society and human community, whereas some people think cars have been the best thing since sliced bread. But what we can all agree about is that, given the type of world in which we live, our sons and daughters need to learn the driving skills and virtues. A responsible parent would not simply hand over the car keys to a twelve-year-old, or even a fifteen-year-old, and expect everything to be fine. First, the parent trains the young man or woman to drive safely and responsibly. This happens as Mom and Dad model good driving to their kids and instruct them in driving skills. But modeling and instruction in driving skills is not enough: the parent will also need to offer modelling and instruction in the character traits necessary for being a good driver (i.e., self-discipline, patience, charity, etc.) and the virtues of the mind correlated with good driving (attentiveness, concentration, situational awareness, etc.). As the adolescent learns to drive, boundaries of time and place are also offered for his or her protection.

Similarly with digital interfaces: whether we think these devices should never have been invented, or whether we think they wonderfully enhance human society, we should all be able to agree that, given the type of world in which we live, our kids need to learn digital skills and virtues. A responsible parent will not hand a kid an iPhone any more than car keys and expect everything to be fine; rather, the parent will teach skills, character traits, and virtues constitutive of flourishing in the digital age.

One would hope that technological utopians and technological rejectionists alike could agree that we need to teach our children the character traits and virtues necessary for flourishing online, including moderation, critical thinking, accountability, and the self-regulation skills necessary for attention preservation within the digital ecosystem. After all, the phone is as powerful a tool as the car – in fact, it is more powerful since it is a reality-mediating device. Our children deserve nothing less than responsible training and boundaries.

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Most of the boundaries we discuss in this book are centered around the need, not so much to have discernment about the content coming through digital interfaces (though that is certainly important, especially as more of the internet is becoming pornified), but boundaries that protect our brains from the insidious impact of scattered focus. Again from chapter 30:

Ironically, if continuous partial attention becomes the norm in our life, we become unskilled at leveraging even digital interfaces for their full potential. We probably don’t think of activities like answering text messages, surfing the web, or watching a podcast on YouTube as activities requiring skill. Yet it is certainly possible to perform these tasks well or poorly. For digital activity to be effective, meaningful, and successful, we need certain skills and virtues. A digital skill would be something like the following:

  • aptitude at performing effective due diligence on an information claim;
  • ability to reply to a text message with follow-up questions and knowing how to effectively construct those questions;
  • skill at setting up an effective query in a web search and knowing how to fact-check the resulting answers;
  • competence at recognizing if a podcaster is speaking from a place of expertise or just making things up;
  • skill in scrolling through an information stream to extract needed information without being drawn into extraneous or spiritually damaging stimuli;
  • aptitude at using social media for connecting with friends rather than using it for addictive or pre-addictive behaviors like thrill-seeking and dopamine spikes.
  • ability to use metacognition (awareness of one’s own brain activity) to monitor if your brain is working efficiently or being colonized by digital forces outside your control. (An example of metacognition is recognizing something like, “I notice my brain is tired right now, so I might want to stay off platforms like YouTube that are hard to manage responsibly when tired,” or “I can notice myself slipping into search habits to simply confirm my biases, rather than genuinely seeking out a range of perspectives.”)

In addition to these skills, success online also requires character traits and intellectual virtues, including,

  • even-handedness
  • reflectiveness
  • prudence
  • carefulness
  • moderation
  • thoroughness
  • critical thinking
  • self-control
  • focus
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