Johann Hari: In The Age of Distraction, We Need One Thing More Than Ever: Books

Johann Hari: In The Age of Distraction, We Need One Thing More Than Ever: Books.


This weekend I was linked through another blog to this great article on the need for reading regular printed books –  just because of our age of “mass distraction”, to use the author’s catchy phrase. Johann Hari is a columnist on the London Independent and his article appeared in the June 23, 2011 edition of “Huffpost Books”. His article is not only well-written, but it also presents compelling reasons why this is the need for our age. As one who has started down the road of e-readers and e-books, while also continuing to praise the traditional forms of reading, I appreciated his thoughts. I hope you do as well. We could all use a little “philosophy” (wisdom-loving reasons for) and “apology” (defense) of reading :).


The book — the physical paper book — is being circled by a shoal of sharks, with sales down 9 percent this year alone. It’s being chewed by the e-book. It’s being gored by the death of the bookshop and the library. And most importantly, the mental space it occupied is being eroded by the thousand Weapons of Mass Distraction that surround us all. It’s hard to admit, but we all sense it: it is becoming almost physically harder to read books. I think we should start there — because it shows why we need the physical book to survive, and hints at what we need to do to make sure it does.

In his gorgeous little book The Lost Art of Reading — Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, the critic David Ulin admits to a strange feeling. All his life, he had taken reading as for granted as eating — but then, a few years ago, he “became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read.” He would sit down to do it at night, as he always had, and read a few paragraphs, then find his mind was wandering, imploring him to check his email, or Twitter, or Facebook. “What I’m struggling with,” he writes, “is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there’s something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it’s mostly a series of disconnected riffs, quick takes and fragments, that add up to the anxiety of the age.”

I think most of us have this sense today, if we are honest. If you read a book with your laptop thrumming at the other side of the room, it can feel like trying to read with a heavy metal band shrieking in front of you. To read, you need to slow down. You need mental silence except for the words. That’s getting harder to find.

No, don’t misunderstand me. I adore the web, and they will have to wrench my Twitter feed from my cold dead hands. This isn’t going to turn into an antedeluvian rant against the glories of our wired world. But there’s a reason why that word — ‘wired’ — means both ‘connected to the internet’ and ‘high, frantic, unable to concentrate.’

So in the age of the internet, physical paper books are a technology we need more, not less. In the 1950s, the novelist Herman Hesse wrote: “The more the need for entertainment and mainstream education can be met by new inventions, the more the book will recover its dignity and authority. We have not yet quite reached the point where young competitors, such as radio, cinema, etc, have taken over the functions from the book it can’t afford to lose.”

We have now reached that point. And here’s the function that the book — the paper book that doesn’t beep or flash or link or let you watch a thousand videos all at once — does for you that nothing else will. It gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration. As Ulin puts it: “Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction… It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise.”

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 4:26 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Discipline of Serving

Today (as I write on Sunday evening) I read a few more articles in the June Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries monthly devotional. One of them was the weekend article written by Donald S. Whitney, who is professor of Biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been writing a series for the magazine on spiritual disciplines in the Christian life (prayer, Scripture reading and meditation, etc.). This time he wrote on the discipline of serving, and he has some excellent things to say. I will quote a few relevant paragraphs to show you how he develops this idea of serving as a Christian discipline. After laying the foundation in the person and work of Christ (Matt.20:28), he writes:


So one of the clearest indications that a person has believed the gospel of Jesus is that his selfish desire to be served begins to be overcome by a Christlike desire to serve. He starts looking for ways to do something for Christ’s church, especially in ways that will serve the gospel.

The transformation in a person’s nature that God effects through the gospel also turns selfish people – interested only in serving themselves and being served by others – into people who, in the words of the apostle Peter, want to ‘serve one another’ (I Peter 4:10). The gospel opens believers’ eyes to see needs they never saw before and changes their hearts to have a new compassion and willingness to meet those needs.

As the Holy Spirit permeates people’s character with the effects of the gospel, they increasingly develop a mindset of serving in every part of life. They begin to consider their daily occupation in terms of how useful it should be in the service of others instead of simply how it enlarges their wealth or reputation. They give more thought to serving the members of their families. They want to know that their churches are stronger because of their service.

It has been said that everyone wants to be a servant, but no one wants to be treated like one. Through the gospel, however, the Spirit of Christ enables believers to endure ill treatment and to continue serving, because ultimately they serve others not for human recognition but out of love for God and a desire to glorify Him with their service.

….Has the gospel you believed given you a servant’s heart? Is your service rooted in the gospel?

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 4:06 AM  Leave a Comment