The growing costs of convenience

If achieving information requires nothing more than a Google search, what will that do to the task of spiritual formation?

By John Chandler

I used to have a knack for remembering phone numbers. With the advent of speed-dial, that’s long gone. This is one tiny instance that makes me wonder, what else have I forgotten?

In 2008, Nicolas Carr wrote an article called, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The question examines whether our reliance on search engines as a shortcut is making us flabby in knowing how to dig for research. In a preview of his forthcoming book, The Glass Cage, he asks a similar question of the dark side of our advances in technological gadgetry. If a GPS makes map-reading obsolete, if robotic surgical process automates routine procedures, if pilots can push a button and chillax, then, in Carr’s words, “It makes getting what we want easier, but distances us from the work of knowing.” My new car volunteered to help me parallel park. Will I forget how to do it myself?

Perhaps this is more than an old-timer’s nostalgia. Psychologists since the 1970s have been documenting “the generation effect.” Rooted in studies of vocabulary, the generation effect reveals that people better remember words when they generate them rather than simply read them. When you actively engage in learning something, your neural circuits ensure that the hard work you are doing turns into something you are able to retain and tap into later. You develop skills in pattern recognition and information organization. On the other hand, if you simply Google it, you get it quickly, but lose it just as quickly. And, needless to say, the trend is simply to put matters on autopilot and Google it.

The implications of this cultural trend for ministry are profound. We who are interested in the spiritual formation of disciples had better act wisely regarding the temptation to settle for knowledge when what is called for is imprinting. As Mike Breen says, “The path from information to innovation only passes through imitation.” Don’t simply give a newlywed couple a book on marriage. Invite them into your home and have them watch you and your spouse demonstrate what it looks like.

The costs of convenience are complacency and disengagement. The ancients had a category for it within the seven deadly sins. They called it sloth, or acedia, which translates as, “I don’t care.” Don’t Google that.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.