My daughter is home for a few days. She's in the landing zone of her Master's, having one more paper to complete by June 29th. Yesterday, after church, we were talking outside on the deck, and she mentioned that there is a convention in October where she hopes to present a paper. This is an academic convention for English professors and students, and would involve her reading her paper aloud. She's already completed the paper; it's just a matter of whether or not the organizers of the convention believe her contribution would be suitable. They have an abstract, and will let her know. If it's accepted, she will have to pare down the original, which was a submission for a seminar this past semester. She said, if asked to present, she would have to make the original short enough to be read in fifteen minutes. Her original was fifteen pages long, and would need to be trimmed down.
Fifteen pages. That's a whole lot more than 1,000 words.
When was the last time I ever wrote anything of substance that was fifteen pages? I think even when I was in university, the longest I ever was allowed came out to maybe eight or ten. It takes a lot of concentration to research and write a fifteen page paper. But that's what she does. One thing she does not do a lot of is use the internet. She does not have Facebook, uses Twitter only occasionally, and says she doubts she'll ever have a blog. We chatted about how we feel the internet has caused people to be more distracted and unable to concentrate.
I read an article in the June issue of Tabletalk later which actually articulated some of our thoughts. It's entitled "Christinaity Unplugged," by Scott Oliphint. His opening question is "When was the last time you withdrew?" meaning, withdrawing from anyone else, like Jesus did when he went to pray. Oliphint goes on to discuss our current society which is always plugged into something, and then described the brain's plasticity, "neuroplasticity:"
The brain is kind of soft and supple clay. Like clay, it can be formed and conformed; but like clay, it can gain a rigidity over time, once formed in a particular way. If we train the brain to be distracted, it will "learn" that distraction is its normal mode of operation. It will also "learn" that contempletion and thinking are foreign to its practice.
That's kind of a sobering thought in a world where most 16 years olds text, skype, listen to music, play video games, do homework, and Tweet simultaneously. Will our kids grow to be people who know nothing about contemplation?
I'm not saying I will ever produce a 15 page paper, although I love the idea of that kind of dedicated writing, something where I'm immersed in the topic. I just want to have the capacity to concentrate on something well enough to produce fifteen pages, even if it never sees the light of day, and remains on my computer. More than that, I'd like to be able to dedicate my concentration to my studies of the Word of God to that degree. There was a day when I could concentrate for longer periods of time when I study. Now, I admit to getting distracted much more easily. Sometimes, I think a laptop would be better than a desk top, because then I could put it somewhere where it didn't distract me while I worked.
As a Christian, I need to be able to withdraw. I like how Oliphint closes his article:
A Christian who is serious about growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ will make technology a resourceful servant, not a mind-numbing master, and will commit to making a habit of withdrawing from it all in order to mold the mind, more and more, in conformity to the depth and truth of the Christian faith.