I recently started reading a 700-plus page biography of one of my favorite philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard. Such a task is daunting and reading this book will surely be time-consuming. Yet, such a book is necessary and sufficient for gaining knowledge on not only Kierkegaard himself, but also for shedding more light upon his works and thought. This book has also made me think about the instantaneousness that our culture craves.

One of the supposed benefits of technology is the instantaneousness of information, worthwhile or trivial. At times, such a feature of the digital age is necessary. As a student, I find it useful when I can receive an email back from a professor within moments when I need key information. This is especially useful in moments of dire need with one’s work or education.

However, one must ponder the implications of instant information. I do not believe it to be too outlandish to claim that the nature of instantaneousness is tied to laziness. Our society is one of impatience, and I am not excluded from such category. We think we need and crave things instantly. Instant messages pop up on our computer screens, text messages convey information instantly without so much as a vocal cord being strained, instant replays are literal in sports entertainment, and entertainment is one, instant click of the mouse away from being on our hard drives. I could easily not read the Kierkegaard biography, knowing full well that doing such would deprive me of some vital knowledge of this philosopher. I could easily volit using a simple search engine to get instant, albeit unreliable, information about Kierkegaard.

But what knowledge is gained instantly? In a culture of instantaneousness, what still contains reverence to be pondered upon? Honestly, not much. Instant information may lack the study and research required to convey and transfer knowledge. A notable example is any search engine (i.e. Google, or worse, Wikipedia). One could search “Aquinas’ Five Ways” and find a number of resources, most of which are summarizations of this Thomistic formulation. Some of this information is poor and lacks research by trained educators. But this is the instant way to gain “information” about St. Thomas. It is far easier to do this rather than spending time behind a desk in a library researching Thomism and those who have written commentaries on St. Thomas’ thought. The journey of discovery through books and research is lost with the culture of instantaneousness.

Further, instantaneousness encourages distractedness. How often is one in conversation with another person and one or both parties are looking at cell phones or other hand-held devices? I am not excluded from this indictment. Instantaneousness, while manifesting itself as a portal to being “connected,” does the exact opposite. Instantaneousness encourages loneliness amongst others, all while promoting its own agenda.

Lastly, and what I consider to be most pressing, is the addiction to instantaneousness. It is hard to separate oneself from the instant information from the internet. This form of information is more readily instant because of cell phones with internet connection. Again, while there are some benefits to such technologies, one is always “plugged in” or “connected” and ready to receive information. Such a commodity is noticeable in church services. There is no reverence for worship, no reverence for the preaching and worst of all, no reverence for the Eucharist. The Bible cannot be compressed into a single Twitter feed, so who really has time for it?

Society must learn to slow down and enjoy the process of interactions between people without instant distractions. One must take the time to read and study in order to enhance their worldview and become readily available to defend it. Let us not lose touch of the simple processes of life which become lost and underemphasized by instant digital information.

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  1. Which biography are you reading? Some are better than others, and some seem to be more fictional and sensational (e.g., Garff), than sympathetic. I’m partial to Hannay’s biography, myself, an improvement in many dimensions from Walter Lowrie.

  2. I am reading the Garff biography. I have heard that Hannay’s is spectacular, but have not read it.

    Your comment is important as it is the case with many biographies. I quite enjoyed the new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but have heard several criticisms that Metaxas tried to portray Bonhoeffer under an evangelical portrait. From what I hear, the historian Richard Weikart will be writing a new biography that is much more historical.

  3. Michael,
    As it turns out, Garff’s “biography” has not been without controversy:

    (sorry, I didn’t know how to provide link w/o the expanded URL. Let me know if you need a .pdf version.

    I think it’s worth knowing about this element of Garff’s biography when reading about SK.

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