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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Wired Soul" (Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD)

TITLE: The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age
AUTHOR: Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD
PUBLISHER: Colorado Spings, CO: NavPress, 2016, (216 pages).

Technology is now everywhere around us, with us, and following us. For many people, it is quickly rewiring our brains and changing the way we talk, think, travel, and traipse. While positively, we get more and better information in ways quicker and more efficient than ever before, there are negative consequences as well. People tend to remember less, choosing to let their phones and digital devices record or save all their personal details. They are more forgetful and less willing to learn the old school way. Many choose to simply Google their information, as if the first try is the answer to their questions. While finding content is easy, discerning is not so easy. Where are our reference points? On what basis do we decide which is right, which is wrong, and which is appropriate? We live in a technologically connected world. According to author and professor Tricia Rhodes, we are living in a "hyperconnected age." Contrasting her own carefree escapades in the past, she compares what it was to live then and now. Her children are digital natives but she is not. She calls herself a 'digital immigrant' and is poised to see how the digital world is changing not only the way we live but the people we are. Her key thesis is that our digital habits have direct link to our formation into Christlikeness. On lifestyle, we are asked what the first thing we do when we get up. On habits, we are asked about our reaction when we hear our phone beeps. On reading, how has our attentiveness be sustained in a world of WiFi and Internet connectivity? On prayer, how is our level of patience and waiting been changed? On presence, how have our ability to connect with people been affected? On information overload, we wonder why we are so tired in the first place. These and many more are the negative consequences of technology manhandling us and we allowing it free reign on our lives. This has let to our brains been re-wired by technology. A key discovery in brain plasticity research is that "cells that fire together, wire together." Such brain cells are fired up together when one uses technology. If that is the case, technology is directly influencing the way our brains function. Thankfully, we do not need to be sucked in by the technological whirlpool. Rhodes propose a way not only to counter the negative effects of technology but to intentionally work toward Christlikeness. She updates the spiritual discipline of lectio divina and applies them in this book for a technological age. Briefly, the four disciplines are:

  1. Lectio - Spiritual reading
  2. Meditatio - Spiritual meditation
  3. Oratio - Prayer
  4. Contemplatio - to contemplate
Like the ancient four-part discipline, this book follows the similar four part format beginning with "lectio divina,' or spiritual reading. Slow reading aids deep thinking. Deep thinking accompanies slow reading. Rhodes highlights the apparent paradox that as we get more access to books and information online, we are actually reading less. We read more for information than anything else. In trying to keep up with technological speed and efficiency, we invariably lose something else: Patience and enjoyment. Research consistently points to a higher satisfaction for reading on printed books. Slow reading has huge benefits such as keeping on leash our monkey minds of unrest. Some strategies for reading include repeated reading, reading aloud, collecting quotes, and plain enjoyment.

Part Two is about Meditatio, which is to help us pay attention. A key reason why we are spiritually inadequate is because of the multiple distractions happening all around us. One of the first things is to clear the decks so that we can focus on God. If we do not deal with the distractions both inside and outside us, we are in for a really heady and difficult time for learning, assuming we can learn. We lack focus due to the dizzying array of distractions. Rhodes shares four movements of meditation: 1) deep breathing; 2) simple movement; 3) vocal sound; and 4) faith.

Part Three is Oratio which is essentially prayer and conversation with God. A major problem in our world is how we can become willingly enslaved to technological gadgets and digital devices. It impacts our praying by putting Internet idolatry before anything else. There is a god that lurks behind every digital endeavor. Repeated obsession with a kind of games leads us to the god of accomplishment and competition. Continuous upgrading is linked to the god of greed and materialism. Non-stop posting of self on social media is the god of selfism. A 'voyeuristic interest' in the lives of other people is linked to the god of fantasy. Obsessions with internet chats may hide a god of popularity and a desire for approval.

Part Four is Contemplatio where we are ready to be close to God and admire the beauty of His Holiness. In a world where relationships are often reduced to internet messages and emoticons, this practice is a challenge to enter fully into the presence of God. No short texts. No abbreviated jargon. No reductionism.When we learn to cultivate a fuller appreciation of seeking God fully, we will learn what it means to being found by God finally.

So What?
I am wowed by this book at least three levels. At a technological level, I identify a lot with what the author has experienced, like of being a digital native, of wanting to caution people about their changing brain waves, and the way the digital devices have changed the way we live and interact. With lots of familiar technology examples, readers will find this book easy to identify with. Rhodes pulls in solid examples and researches in the field of media studies and how technology has affected people in deeper ways. Familiar scholars and researchers include Martin Heidegger, Marshall McLuhan, Sherry Turkle, Maryanne Wolf, etc. At a theological level, not only does Rhodes engage with the spiritual writers of old, like Augustine, St Benedict, and Ignatius, we get a fair overview of contemporary theologians as well, from CS Lewis, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. At a practical level, she includes ample practice pages and exercise guidelines for use straight off the pages. This is something particularly useful when putting what we read and learn into practice.

A curious thing would be this: Would it be better for readers to get the printed copy or the ebook? For me, the choice is clear. Given the choice, go for the printed copy, hands down.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of NavPress, Tyndale House Publishers, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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