“This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth: you shall meditate on it day and night; so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.”
Many look up to David Galernter as a sage and one of our nation’s most provocative thinkers. He is professor of computer science at Yale University and hailed by The New York Times as “a computer rock star”. Besides being one of the world’s leading computer scientists he holds advanced degrees in Classical Hebrew and combines ancient moral wisdom with avant-garde technology. He got my attention in his article, “What We Should Be Worried About”, in which he worries about “Internet drivel”. He laments the devaluing effect of superfluous Internet data flooding the public:
If we have a million photos, we tend to value each one less than if we only had ten. The Internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average word’s value on many axes…The Internet’s insatiable demand for word creates a global deflation in the value of words.
This is a computer scientist, and one of the first to foresee the World Wide Web, who frets:
The Internet drivel can’t be good – and is almost certain to grow in importance as the world fills gradually with people who have spent their whole lives glued to their iToys.
I am sobered by what Galernter describes as this “devaluation of words”, and like him, I worry about The Word. This is an echo of what worried Nobel laureate T. S. Eliot two generations ago worried about in his poem “The Rock”: “ignorance of the Word…wisdom lost in knowledge…knowledge lost in information.”
It is estimated that the total body of knowledge doubled between A. D. 1 and 1500. It doubled again in the 300 years between 1500 and 1800, and doubled again between 1800 and 1900. Today it is estimated that the total body of knowledge doubles every one to two years, and by 2020 will double every 72 days.
Yet have we grown any in wisdom? Grown in happiness? Or compassion? It doesn’t seem so. Don’t get me wrong! I don’t want to turn back the clock on the Internet. But I do want my computer and Internet connection to serve me rather than me serving them.
As I thought about David Galernter’s musings, and his love for the Hebrew Scriptures, I thought about the ancient but contemporary wisdom in the Hebrew Scripture at the top of the page:
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth: you shall meditate on it day and night; so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.
There is nothing new here. But when it comes to moral wisdom, if its new it isn’t true, and if its true it isn’t new. In these timeless words God commands that His book of the law, or His instruction, “shall not depart out of your mouth”. For God’s moral instruction to always be in our mouth, it first has to be in our hearts.
It’s old ‘school Bible’ memorization that downloads God’s wisdom into us. Yes, I can always look up a passage on my smart phone, but the passage needs to be in my heart. That’s where I will get wisdom, that’s where I will find true success.
But that will require four things of us that are counter-cultural and swimming against the tide. They are:
They say it is good for our computers to turn them off for a while every day; and I know that its good for me. And when I turn off my computer for a while, I can make time for some silence—solitude – Bible – meditation. If I read David Galernter right, downloading God’s Word means I won’t be lost in words.
Grace and peace,
photo by Ben