Thinking Out Loud

September 7, 2018

Social Media: What It’s Doing to Us

Some of you may have seen this on Facebook.

That’s rather ironic; since it does not paint the social media platform favorably.

The timing on this is interesting, since I was planning to write about this topic anyway. I’m not opposed to technology, nor do I resent the application of social networking. Rather, I was going to write something like, “I just want to go back in time and use the internet as it was in 2003.” That’s right; 15 years ought to do it.

Anyway, see what you think. Someone put some thought into this, but it hasn’t had many views and no public comments as of yesterday. (Perhaps this isn’t the original post.)

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July 20, 2018

Changing the Way We Think About Thinking

Originally published in 2013, shortly after I joined Twitter, under the title, “A Picture Replaces 1,000 Words.”


Writing Literacy CommunicationSeveral months in, I have to say that I’m enjoying Twitter. But I also despair over all the things the new technology has wrought in terms of reducing literacy.

  • Twitter forces us to compress a message to 140 characters; usually Tweets are sentence fragments.
  • Texting forces us to compress words, resulting in thngs which aren’t really wrds at all.
  • Spell-check means that in many cases, the computer itself is filling out and completing our thoughts. Spell-check is on, weather you want it or knot. I think you no where I’m coming form on this point. (Yep, no mistakes there!)
  • Facebook tends to be absorbed with the minutiae of our lives, with little regard for the interest others might have in such trivia, hence a major loss of depth. Left to continue for a generation, we may forget how not to be shallow.
  • Tumblr and Pinterest rely entirely on visuals. So while it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture replaces a thousand words. I don’t buy a second car and write about the year, make and model, my trip to the dealer, or who owned the car previously, or why we needed it; I simply post a phone-quality resolution photo with the caption, “Bought this today.” Yes, but what is it?
  • That said, isn’t it interesting that the cell phone or mobile phone, designed for communication now contains a camera? What does this say about our preferred mode of transmitting our thoughts and informing others as to our activities?
  • A culture of “copy and paste” means we often parrot the words of others without personalization. We re-Tweet, re-blog and regurgitate what a few key communicators are saying without including any personal editorial comments, to the point that often others wonder if we’re agreeing or disagreeing.
  • What verbal communication that remains tend to be more oral than written. We are rapidly moving from literacy to orality, not unlike many more primitive societies in remote parts of the world.

What does all this mean to those of us whose priority in life is to follow Christ?

  • Attention spans are being rapidly diminished; we need to rethink all manner of Christian communication, both in terms of online activity, but also simple things like how preaching happens or how small groups are led.
  • At the same time, we have to be willing to contribute to the glut of communication taking place. We have a message to bring, a message we want shared.
  • We need people to construct eye-arresting visuals (both static images and motion video content) that communicate the truth of scripture.
  • We need to engage a greater use of story to capture the attention of people over the duration of longer narratives.
  • We need to affirm our position as readers, the thing that separates us from animals. Therefore we need to model this for our children, and then having set an example, keep our kids supplied with age-appropriate books of all kinds, both fiction and non-fiction, faith-focused and general-interest.
  • Similarly, we need to passionate about thought about ideas. We need to allow ourselves immersion into what key writers and leaders are saying.
  • Everyone writing online needs to practice a greater level of concision. This is somewhat related to the first priority; we need to get our message across more efficiently.
  • While the message of the Gospel is simple enough that we can receive it as a child, we need to be careful not to lose an appreciation of the intricacies and complexity of scripture. We need to approach God’s word as a multi-faceted jewel and examine at different angles to see the refractions and reflections it produces.

November 9, 2017

The Essential Art of Concision

I debated between calling this “The Lost art of Concision” versus “The Developing Art of Concision.” First, a definition is in order:

Therefore, when I speak of the concision as a developing art, I mean the necessity of being able to put ideas across in a short-and-to-the-point manner; something you need in a world of soundbites. Last year I wrote,

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1.50 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?”

But when I speak of it as a dying art, I’m thinking specifically of the migration of many bloggers from what I’m doing now — typing/writing words — to podcasting; and to Twitter’s decision to gift everyone with 140 additional characters on Tuesday evening.

Twitter is obsessed with the number 140. (Originally videos were limited to 2 minutes and 20 seconds, which is 140 seconds.)  The new length, 280 characters, doubles this even though 160 would have been a nice gift in itself. Or 180 or 200. 280 seems long, it seems to rob Twitter of it’s basic character, heretofore. But I didn’t always feel that way. When I joined, I wrote:

I can’t say what I have to say in 140 characters.

In case you missed it, I tend to write long.

But the word concision has come up on this blog somewhat frequently. Earlier this year I wrote,

I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

The Bible itself is amazingly concise. Readers are often fascinated to learn how narratives they had heard about — Creation, Jonah, The Prodigal Son — when they actually got around to reading them, were expressed in a very limited fashion. In an article about Christ’s ascension the subject was raised (pun intended):

A reader wrote, “We’re told… at his ascension that he will come again in like manner as they have seen him go.” But what do we know about that manner? How long were the disciples staring as he rose into the sky? Was there a low cloud ceiling that day? The Bible’s tendency to brevity and concision makes me think that perhaps God didn’t just beam Jesus up, but his ascension may have have been more prolonged; a vertical processional to heaven.

It also came up in a piece on diminishing attention spans:

You see this in the way books and articles in periodicals are written now; in fact you’re seeing it in the piece you’re presently reading. Pick up an older book — say 60 years or more old — and you might find an entire page consisting of a single paragraph. You might even find several consecutive pages consisting of a single paragraph. (I’m told that some chapters of Paul’s epistles were often a single sentence in the original Greek, no doubt a weaving of dominant and subordinate clauses that the reader of that time would follow easily.)

Today we use paragraph breaks to keep the content flowing; to keep the eyes moving on the page; to force us writers to adopt a greater degree of concision. Our writing is also broken up by more numbered or alphanumeric lists, by bullet points, by sub-headers and by pull quotes. (We use them often at Christianity 201, where the devotions are by definition somewhat longer, and we want to make what would otherwise be an entire page of text more interesting.)

The trend towards podcasting is actually surprising, given the push toward brevity in a bullet-point world. Have you ever thought of what a full transcript of your favorite podcast would look like printed out? It would run for pages and pages. A blog post on a similar topic would be less than 2,000 words, and easily digested in under 7 minutes. (Or spoken in 15 minutes. Compare word length to spoken time at this speech minutes converter.)  We wrote about podcasts on an article on the trend from literacy to orality:

Inherent in podcasting is the right to ramble. Listeners get the nuance that’s missing in a traditional blog post (and this is one of the great liabilities of email) but they have to take the time to wade through the host(s) stream-of-consciousness narration. There’s no concision, a quality that decades ago Noam Chomsky had predicted would be, moving forward, a key asset in communications. A great concept that’s probably a seven or eight paragraph blog post instead becomes a 53 minute podcast.  Andy Warhol’s comment that “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” might be modified to, “In the 21st century, everyone will have their own talk show or be the host of their own radio station.” 

As Christian communicators however, we have to be careful when we try to reduce to mystery or complexity of the gospel to a concise motto, slogan, tag line or formula. In an article titled What is the Gospel, I wrote,

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

Anyway Twitter, thanks for the extra characters; but I earnestly hope I have the wisdom to not overuse them. Readers, it’s a busy world out there; keep it short!


Yes, today I basically quoted myself throughout this article. To further embellish Chomsky’s teaching on concision would have made the article…well…not so concise.

For those mystified by the final graphic image, TL/DR stands for Too long, didn’t read.

For further reference in thinking about the difference between podcasting and blogging, this article is less than 1,100 words; you can halve the minutes in the above example.

 

January 17, 2017

Christians and Reading

bookstore-signThis is part two of two articles on the general subject of reading and language, especially as it relates to the closing of bookstores in the wider market, and Christian bookstores in particular. Click here for part one.

Times are a lot tougher than in the past. Millennials struggle to find jobs and wealth creation is not as it was in the days of double-digit interest rates. The R-word — recession — is occasionally mentioned; some say we’re moving into it, some say we’re in it, some say we’re in recovery. Christian bookstores could have reason to claim immunity for the following reasons:

  1. In full out economic depression, people turn to religion.
  2. Also in depression, people turn to entertainment. While the book industry doesn’t have the same profile as movies, music and television, it is most definitely a subset of the entertainment industry.

So why have so many Christian bookstores closed? As with yesterday’s article, I haven’t taken the time to cite studies and statistics, but trust me on some things I can offer anecdotally.

First, we mentioned the various time pressures, distractions, and diminishing attention spans. I would argue that this has led to decline in the traditional devotional reading time. Bill Hybels has tried to give this new life by christening it with a new name, Chair Time. I wrote about that in February, 2016. Curling up with a good book and building a personal library are becoming rare activities. The only way to ensure people have contact with books at all is sometimes to have small groups or home groups which are essentially book study groups. That doesn’t always happen however. Many house groups use church-provided outlines or small study guides related to DVD curriculum they are watching. I do like the traditional book groups, especially in the sense in which they provide accountability (to cover the chapters for the next meeting.)

Second, I think the problem is self-perpetuating. Focus on the Family did some studies a decade ago on the spiritual influence the Dad has in the home, citing things like church attendance over time. I would contend that a generation is arising that has never seen their fathers sitting in a chair reading and when I say reading here, I would settle for the Sears catalog or Sports Illustrated. Many homes no longer receive a newspaper; and I understand that, you can read it online. But online reading is very personal. I could be doing anything online now: Checking the weather, balancing my bank account, posting a social media status update, watching YouTube videos, playing an online game, reading a serious article, or writing for my blog. But when someone sits in a chair reading, they are very obviously reading. Kids need to see this modeled for them as a life component every bit as normal as brushing your teeth.

Third, I believe that leadership is not setting the pace. In the retail store where I hang out, we see Sunday School teachers, we see worship team members, we see small group leaders. What we don’t see is elders, deacons, board members. Sometimes I will visit other churches and I see the names of these people printed in the church bulletin and I don’t recognize any of those names. We even had an instance of a pastor who we were told on good authority did not use his book allowance in ten years. (The man was incredibly arrogant and probably felt he knew all there was to know.) There are a few exceptions to this, but many people are chosen to serve their church in this capacity because they are business owners or executives who are successfully managing the company they work for and are considered wise enough to run the affairs of the church. Maybe they’re too busy to work on their own spiritual formation. That wasn’t the case with Stephen however. When The Twelve needed to create another tier of leadership to do the everyday running of things, they chose, “a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” (The solution to this is pastors who buy the books in bulk they want their elders to study and then give them out as required reading.) 

Fourth, the stores need traffic generators; they require a constant hit bestseller to pay the bills. The Left Behind series accomplished this. The Shack brought people to the stores to both discuss and purchase the book. The Purpose Driven Life did the same. (I know there are people here who aren’t fans of these three examples, but they make the store sustainable for people looking for a classic Spurgeon commentary, or something by Tim Keller, or an apologetics resource.) Even on the non-book side of things the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs provided that traffic. These days, whenever something takes off in the Christian marketplace, Costco and Barnes and Noble are quick to jump into the game. Conversely, it doesn’t help when major Christian authors experience moral failure. The publishers occasionally offer products exclusively to the Christian market, but they only do this for specific chains (Mardel, Parable, Family Christian, etc.) not the independent stores who so desperately need this type of support. You have to be inside the stores to see other products you might wish to read or give away.

Finally, we’re not presently seeing a spiritual hunger. People are not desperate for God in North America and Western Europe right now. We hear reports from Africa or South America, though it’s hard to really quantify what is happening when there are often fringe movements or revivals based on extreme Charismatic doctrine or a mixture of Biblical Christianity and local animistic beliefs. In my early 20s, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say (quite tongue in cheek) “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have technology.” There is a sense in which this is true. It does remind me of the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.” We have to find ways to instill that hunger for reading in our local congregations. Pastor recommendations of books from the pulpit are the most significant factor driving customers to make purchases or place orders.  Another way the technology can be made to work is by providing chapter excerpts for people to sample; but publishers are very reluctant to do this, for reasons which escape me. 

In conclusion, all the factors mentioned in the previous article are impacting bookstores in general, these factors listed here are some things that concern me about the Christian market in particular.

not_enough_shelves

January 16, 2017

The Erosion of Language as We Knew It

giant_library_scene

Yesterday I provided a kind of soft intro to the topic I want to look at today which bears on larger issues than just why bookstores are struggling.

There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.

On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.

I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.

There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.

I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.

The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.

  • We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
    • The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
    • The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
    • The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
  • We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
    • monthly phone bill and data plan overages
    • apps
    • cable or satellite television
    • home internet connection
    • streaming services
    • software bundles
    • accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.

That is all fairly obvious.

We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.

  • Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
  • Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
  • Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
  • Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.

But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:

  • The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
  • The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
  • The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
  • The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.

The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:

  • Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
  • Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
  • Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)

Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:

  • When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
    • It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
    • For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
    • It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
    • The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
    • It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
    • When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
  • The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.

Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

  • The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
  • Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
  • Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.

…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.

Feel free to engage the comments section to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text.

Borders - The End is Near

 

November 10, 2016

Diminishing Attention Spans

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:01 am

 

war-and-peace

When I was in high school, some of my cohorts weren’t interested in reading an entire novel or Shakespeare play and would purchase the Cliff Notes (sold in Canada as Coles Notes) instead. It was cheating to be sure, and sometimes English teachers would arrange test questions in a manner that only those who had read the text in full could answer properly.

save-time-summaryMore recently, when Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath was released, I discovered that similar products were alive and well, sold as Save Time Summaries, New Books in Brief, Instaread Summaries, and others. Seriously, why consume vast amounts reading the book when you can outsource that to someone else?

These attempts at gaining the knowledge of what a particular book contains are in some ways noble when compared to the prevailing attitude of “I didn’t bother” expressed by the acronym TL/DR — Too long, didn’t read. It turns up in a variety of settings.

Person A sends Person B an lengthy email, or a link to an article of substance and simply gets, TL/DR as a reply. Writers will sometimes include their own TL/DR summary in the first (or last) paragraph. (See below.) Reasons might include:

  • Our activities keep us so busy (or too distracted) that we don’t have time for a particular item if it’s over a certain length; or,
  • Exposure to different types of input/stimuli have left us with attention spans so diminished we can’t follow the argument/thread of a longer piece.

You see this in the way books and articles in periodicals are written now; in fact you’re seeing it in the piece you’re presently reading. Pick up an older book — say 60 years or more old — and you might find an entire page consisting of a single paragraph. You might even find several consecutive pages consisting of a single paragraph. (I’m told that some chapters of Paul’s epistles were often a single sentence in the original Greek, no doubt a weaving of dominant and subordinate clauses that the reader of that time would follow easily.)

pull-quoteToday we use paragraph breaks to keep the content flowing; to keep the eyes moving on the page; to force us writers to adopt a greater degree of concision. Our writing is also broken up by more numbered or alphanumeric lists, by bullet points, by sub-headers and by pull quotes. (We use them often at Christianity 201, where the devotions are by definition somewhat longer, and we want to make what would otherwise be an entire page of text more interesting.)

The use of varying rich text elements (changing fonts, bold face, italics, arrows, different types of headers and sub-heads) would probably surprise even an early 20th Century reader, let alone someone from the 18th or 19th Centuries. If the subject matter is cerebral enough, they might wonder why you’ve decorated as though it were written for children.

Again, in a visual-media saturated world, such things are necessary to keep the interest of readers, but if the piece is deemed too long, readers will pass. A coincidence we have three graphic images today? Maybe not.

TL/DR: The writer laments the increasing incidence of readers passing on material deemed too lengthy.

March 9, 2015

Megavoice: One of Missions Best Kept Secrets

I really wrestled with what to post today. After becoming violently ill on Saturday night, I had some catching up to do this morning, and kept shelving today’s article later and later into the morning. Often I’ll go through articles in the same month, previous years and look for ideas or items to reprint.

When I found this article on Megavoice in my March, 2011 archives, the thing that amazed me was that I haven’t re-posted it since. Megavoice is one of a number of new Christian organizations that are leveraging technology for the spread of the Gospel. Sadly, much of the philanthropy that takes place among Christians involves what I would call old-order Christian charities. The same is true for the missions budget of most local churches; most Missions Committee members simply renew the budget of the previous year.

I think this is so vital, so exciting. This is an organization you should want to come alongside of and be spreading the word about…

I’m a bit of a Bible bigot.

My prejudices have nothing to do with a particular translation. No, we don’t more of those people running around. My bias has to do with the form the finished Bible takes.

I asked someone recently what they think the Bible translation process involves. They gave me the answer I expected, the answer I would have given until just days ago:

  • Missionary translators learn the local language
  • The language is put it written form
  • The native people are taught how to read their own language
  • The New Testament (usually beginning with John’s gospel) is translated into that written language
  • Printed copies of the completed books are given out

Great concept. Sometimes, that’s how it’s done. But overall this view has one problem: It doesn’t match the experience of many people working to bring the story of Jesus to remote tribes.

The problem is with the words: “Read,” “books,” “printed,” “written.”

Many of the world’s peoples are not readers. It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense that a young man living on the streets of Detroit is not able to read in the middle of a culture full of literates. It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense of a woman in Atlanta whose makeshift home is insulated with newspapers containing words she cannot understand.

Rather, it’s because, half a world away, theirs is a culture of orality. No, I’d never heard the word before, either. Simply put, they are oral learners.

We’re talking about people who would benefit much more from an audio Bible than one bound in bonded leather with gold edged pages. Think about it: Once translators had acquired the language verbally, they could immediately produce a verbal (spoken) translation of the Bible, and then disseminate it using some kind of playback device.

But how to do that in an age where cassettes break and CD players skip or wear out?

Enter mp3 technology. The time is right. The time is now.

And that’s the theory behind MegaVoice. The term describes

For me, learning about MegaVoice has been a paradigm-shattering experience that has changed everything I’ve believed about how the translation process and the evangelization process works. I live in a world of text, a world of print media, and the possibility of such a widespread population of oral communicators simply never occurred to me.

If you’re one of the blessed people who is always looking for a project worthy of financial support, consider directly supporting this ministry. Whether in print copies or audio copies, the Word of God is still powerful, and doesn’t just “bounce off the walls,” but will accomplish great things in peoples’ lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

A small sampling of the many languages on file in the MegaVoice library

July 19, 2013

A Picture Replaces a Thousand Words

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

Writing Literacy CommunicationSeveral months in, I have to say that I’m enjoying Twitter.  But I also despair over all the things the new technology has wrought in terms of reducing literacy.

  • Twitter forces us to compress a message to 140 characters; usually Tweets are sentence fragments.
  • Texting forces us to compress words, resulting in thngs which aren’t really wrds at all.
  • Spell-check means that in many cases, the computer itself is filling out and completing our thoughts. Spell-check is on, weather you want it or knot. I think you no where I’m coming form on this point.  (Yep, no mistakes there!)
  • Facebook tends to be absorbed with the minutiae of our lives, with little regard for the interest others might have in such trivia, hence a major loss of depth. Left to continue for a generation, we may forget how not to be shallow.
  • Tumblr and Pinterest rely entirely on visuals. So while it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture replaces a thousand words. I don’t buy a second car and write about the year, make and model,  my trip to the dealer, or who owned the car previously, or why we needed it; I simply post a phone-quality resolution photo with the caption, “Bought this today.” Yes, but what is it?
  • That said, isn’t it interesting that the cell phone or mobile phone, designed for communication now contains a camera? What does this say about our preferred mode of transmitting our thoughts and informing others as to our activities?
  • A culture of “copy and paste” means we often parrot the words of others without personalization. We re-Tweet, re-blog and regurgitate what a few key communicators are saying without including any personal editorial comments, to the point that often others wonder if we’re agreeing or disagreeing.
  • What verbal communication that remains tend to be more oral than written. We are rapidly moving from literacy to orality, not unlike many more primitive societies in remote parts of the world.

What does all this mean to those of us whose priority in life is to follow Christ?

  • Attention spans are being rapidly diminished; we need to rethink all manner of Christian communication, both in terms of online activity, but also simple things like how preaching happens or how small groups are led.
  • At the same time, we have to be willing to contribute to the glut of communication taking place. We have a message to bring, a message we want shared.
  • We need people to construct eye-arresting visuals (both static images and motion video content) that communicates the truth of scripture.
  • We need to engage a greater use of story to capture the attention of people over the duration of longer narratives.
  • We need to affirm our position as readers, the thing that separates us from animals. Therefore we need to model this for our children, and then having set an example, keep our kids supplied with age-appropriate books of all kinds, both fiction and non-fiction, faith-focused and general-interest. 
  • Similarly, we need to passionate about thought about ideas. We need to allow ourselves immersion into what key writers and leaders are saying.
  • Everyone writing online needs to practice a greater level of concision. This is somewhat related to the first priority; we need to get our message across more efficiently. 
  • While the message of the Gospel is simple enough that we can receive it as a child, we need to be careful not to lose an appreciation of the intricacies and complexity of scripture. We need to approach God’s word as a multi-faceted jewel and examine at different angles to see the refractions and reflections it produces.

June 12, 2011

Reading Now Consists of Short Word-Bites

…It started out on one of my other blogs.   First, I posted this…

It’s the one thing that separates us from the animals: We record our personal and corporate histories, our dreams, our fables, our ideas and our discoveries; and we pass them around to each other and on to the next generation. If we stop reading and writing and move toward using media only as a basis for temporary experience, we are, as a species becoming less developed not more developed.

For Christians, this becomes even more vital and more complex, because we are in many respects a word-based family of faith, so when we neglect the responsibility to be readers, we risk the very realistic future of our beliefs becoming forgotten.

Then Phil from the UK wrote back…

Interesting thought, Paul — but isn’t this precisely what books do, preserve a record of temporary experience? Isn’t that why we need(ed) them, because our experiences are necessarily temporary? And does it matter whether our words are committed to paper and ink: are they not just as powerful — even more so — when recorded via electronic media (such as this blog) with its immediacy and global reach? It’s the question no one in the book trade wants to face, but has the time come to say books are history? I’m not saying it has: just daring to ask the question…

To which I wrote back…

One of the hardest decisions I had to make was when my parents wanted to get rid of the acoustic upright piano that had been in the family for three generations. I was already a huge fan of digital pianos but still didn’t want to give up the acoustic, even though it weighed a ton and would have been costly to move and re-tune. I had to wrestle with the question, “What is a piano?” Even though it has no vibrating strings, the digital piano we now enjoy is actually much more versatile and I don’t miss the old upright much at all. So I am prepared to concede on this one, if I have to, even though I believe digital books are going to grow from the present 10-11% of the industry to as much as 25% by 2013, and then plateau at that level.

But this post was about reading in general, which I feel is on a rapid decline. There is something being lost here, and the new formats are confusing the issue and causing us to miss the more serious trend.

To which Phil replied…

I’m not so sure, Paul: I think it’s more the way we read and write that’s in decline. We’re all reading and writing tweets, texts and Facebook status updates, sometimes longer emails and blogposts, snippets and short articles in magazines and newspapers — but less in-depth reading, an inability to concentrate on anything that goes on for much more than 500 words or so…

… and I think the Christian community has to take a large share of the blame for this: take a look at the way Bible reading is encouraged in churches with short snippets of the Bible taken out of context in daily devotionals that take no more than 5 minutes to get through. Take a look at any Bible reading notes published: how many of them encourage people to read or interact with more than half a dozen carefully selected verses?

How much has Christianity contributed to the degeneration of reading rather than encouraged literacy? It’s no wonder our society can’t focus when the People of the Book have lost it…

…and then I exported the whole thing here, and now it’s your turn…

March 21, 2011

When Bible Translation Has Nothing To Do With Books

I’m a bit of a Bible bigot.

My prejudices have nothing to do with a particular translation.  No, we don’t more of those people running around.  My bias has to do with the form the finished Bible takes.

I asked someone recently what they think the Bible translation process involves.  They gave me the answer I expected, the answer I would have given until just days ago:

  • Missionary translators learn the local language
  • The language is put it written form
  • The native people are taught how to read their own language
  • The New Testament (usually beginning with John’s gospel) is translated into that written language
  • Printed copies of the completed books are given out

Great concept.  Sometimes, that’s how it’s done.  But overall this view has one problem:  It doesn’t match the experience of many people working to bring the story of Jesus to remote tribes.

The problem is with the words: “Read,” “books,” “printed,” “written.”

Many of the world’s peoples are not readers.  It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense that a young man living on the streets of Detroit is not able to read in the middle of a culture full of literates.  It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense of a woman in Atlanta whose makeshift home is insulated with newspapers containing words she cannot understand.

Rather, it’s because, half a world away, theirs is a culture of orality.  No, I’d never heard the word before, either.  Simply put, they are oral learners.

We’re talking about people who would benefit much more from an audio Bible than one bound in bonded leather with gold edged pages.   Think about it: Once translators had acquired the language verbally, they could immediately produce a verbal (spoken) translation of the Bible, and then disseminate it using some kind of playback device.

But how to do that in an age where cassettes break and CD players skip or wear out?

Enter mp3 technology.  The time is right.  The time is now.

And that’s the theory behind MegaVoice.  The term describes

For me, learning about MegaVoice has been a paradigm-shattering experience that has changed everything I’ve believed about how the translation process and the evangelization process works.  I live in a world of text, a world of print media, and the possibility of such a widespread population of oral communicators simply never occurred to me.

So that said, I’m going to come back to MegaVoice again here at some point in the future.  But if you’re one of the needle-in-a-haystack people reading this who is truly challenged by the possibilities this raises, I want to link you a .pdf file of a book, Making Disciples of Oral Learners, originally written as a paper published for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Thailand in the fall of 2004, and published in 2005.

When you link to the book, start reading at page 3 and pay particular attention to the part from page 3 to page 30.

And if you’re one of the blessed people who is always looking for a project worthy of financial support, consider directly supporting this ministry.  Whether in print copies or audio copies, the Word of God is still powerful, and doesn’t just “bounce off the walls,” but will accomplish great things in peoples’ lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

A small sampling of the many languages on file in the MegaVoice library

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