I just read a Facebook comment on a Sports Illustrated profile of Johnny Bench someone shared here. The comment: "Very long but good article."
That sort of bugged me because the article didn't seem unduly long: 3239 words. (I checked.)
It strikes me that our attention spans have dribbled down to nearly zero.
And this has consequences for life and society beyond how we perceive profiles of old baseball players.
How will we ever innovate or solve problems if we don't have the patience to wrestle with facts and ideas?
Without a significant attention span or a willingness to read or watch or listen to things that will inform us, teach us, enliven us, challenge us, and stretch us, how can we possibly function, how will we make good, informed decisions in life?
I've thought about this a lot. The founders of this country thought that an informed and educated people were essential for the functionality of a democracy.
When I mention being educated, I'm not talking about college educations. The Founders didn't think that everyone needed to go to college and neither do I.
I'm talking sound basic education that includes science, history, civics, English, the Arts, and physical education.
My grandfather, a man orphaned at the age of eight who was shipped from one foster family to another before graduating from college, could still, in his sixties and seventies, recite soliloquies from Shakespeare that he learned in his school years.
It's not that these basics aren't being taught in some of our schools; they most definitely are and I have infinite respect for teachers.
But the imposition of "standards" by state legislatures and other government entities trying to impress their constituents, and the advent of "social promotion" have conspired with other aspects of our culture to dumb down America.
Read, for example, a transcript of an average American political speech or public lecture--meant to be heard by ordinary lay audiences--on anything from science to foreign policy from forty years ago, then read some from today, and you'll notice, by and large, this "dumbing down." Yes, we have TED Talks and the like, certainly good things. But even they are tailored for our short attention spans.
When I was an admittedly nerdy teenager, I used to borrow back issues of Vital Speeches, a magazine that presented transcripts of all kinds of addresses, from the library. It helped me understand what was going on in the world from a variety of perspectives. I guarantee that many of the speeches I read back then were longer than 3239 words.
I'm not being nostalgic here. Nostalgia is inaccurate history. I've never been one to pine for good old days that never existed.
For all the information and education available to past generations of Americans, they still managed to justify moral horrors like the murderous subjugation of Native Americans, slavery and Jim Crow laws, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2, and on and on.
I believe that education without the personal and societal transformation that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the consequent unleashing of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will operate from the human default mode: The Bible affirms that we are sinners who WILL commit sin, including the perpetration of injustice, unless we take hold of the new life that God offers to those who repent and believe in Jesus. Even then, we will make mistakes, we will sin.
But as we live in an ongoing relationship of accountability with the God Who saves us by grace through faith in Christ, we will encounter the ministry of God's Holy Spirit, Who convicts of our sin and then convinces us as we repent that God is forgiving us and making us new in spite of ourselves. This, in turn, engenders humility, open-mindedness, and open-heartedness. (I'm sure that nothing angers God more than "Christians" misusing their faith to justify things like injustice and hatred or the acquisition of power.)
I wonder though if, in the mad dash to make quick impressions on us, the media elites and others, aren't selling us all short.
I'm convinced that we human beings are far more capable of learning, growing, and thinking than the Kardashians, the politicians, marketers, and media mavens think that we are.
If only we believed it too.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]