After teaching an introductory course on media ecology at the college level for eighteen consecutive years, I place current authors into two camps: Those who do not regard new media as capable of being tamed (at least, not cold turkey), and those who believe it will take significant personal discipline to restrain them. Some of the latter category of authors propose practical means of understanding and taming our media (and ourselves). Even some who worked in the industry earlier believe that the digital world is largely unmanageable, following the twentieth-century warnings of Jacques Ellul and Neil Postman.* I cannot summarize all of their insights, but certain recommendations appear as a near consensus, which I want to share here in my own words in no particular order:
- Do not permit disruptive or distracting media to disrupt or distract what is important to your humanity (for example, family meals, or family or private devotions).
- Do not attempt to multitask; it cannot be done.
- Set specific, brief windows of time during the day to check email, Facebook, and the like, ignoring them otherwise.
- Find a way to tame your boss (depending on your role): The fact that your superiors are able to reach you at any time does not mean you should welcome such transcendence of your personal time and space.
- Consider adopting William Powers’ suggestion to take a regular sabbatical from all external interruptions. He and his wife turn everything off from Friday evening until Sunday evening in order to have focused time with family (your needs might vary).
- Adopt some practices that require—and therefore cultivate—uninterrupted attention, like reading a novel or poetry, listening carefully to classical music, or writing handwritten letters.
Camp One (a select bibliography of those who do not believe media can be tamed):
- Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (Zondervan, 2011).
- Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Baker, 2017).
- D. Brent Laytham, iPod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment (Cascade, 2012).
- William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (HarperCollins, 2010).
- Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Crossway, 2017).
- Felicia Wu Song, Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age (InterVarsity Press, 2021).
- Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper, 2007); Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (HarperCollins, 2018). Dr. Wolf is the former director of the Reading Lab at Tufts University, who published on the neurology of reading for several decades. She wrote Reader, Come Home in her current post as director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA.
Camp Two (those who believe the digital world is largely unmanageable):
- Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone under Thirty) (Penguin, 2008); and The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults (Regnery Gateway, 2022).
- Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010). Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (repr., Picador, 2019).
- Mari K. Swingle, i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media Are Changing Our Brains, Our Behavior, and the Evolution of Our Species, 2nd ed. (New Society, 2019). Dr. Swingle is a practicing neurophysiologist in Vancouver. Her clinic uses treatment that assesses and regularizes brainwaves to help behavioral and learning disorders. She received an Early Career Award by the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences for her research on the effects of digital technologies on brainwave functions. This book is the result of her research on the damaging neurological effects of digital technologies.
- Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin, 2016). Dr. Turkle is the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, a licensed clinical psychologist, and a former student of Joseph Weizenbaum.
- Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—And What That Means for the Rest of Us (Atria Books, 2018). Dr. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. This book has been widely read and discussed, and I required it in my courses on media ecology. She used the General Social Survey, augmented by many interviews, to compare and contrast the digital generation to predigital generations.
- Craig Watkins, The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future (Beacon Press, 2009)