In his address at the Areopagus, the apostle Paul declared to the Athenians that God himself had chosen the time and place in which they lived (Acts 17:26). The same is true for us today; God has chosen to place us in a historical and cultural context in which rapidly emerging new digital technologies increasingly shape our individual and collective lives.
How then can we live faithfully in relation to these new technologies? That is the question we must answer.
Toward that end, here are twelve books I recommend for Christians who wish to think carefully about faithful Christian living in an era dominated by digital technology and social media. I will describe the signal contribution of each book and then rank its level of difficulty on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most difficult. Level 1 is the category for a book you could give to any friend or family member. Level 5 is the category for a book that might be required in a PhD seminar. The list proceeds in that order.
- Tony Reinke, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age (Crossway, 2019). This little treasure of a book shows us how to shape our lives around world history’s supreme “spectacle,” that of Christ and him crucified, even in the midst of a twenty-first century digital age constantly seducing us to fixate ourselves on various images and events. 154 pages. Level 1.
- Daniel Strange, Plugged In: Connecting Your Faith with What You Watch, Read, and Play (The Good Book Company, 2019). Although Dr. Strange (alas, not the Marvel Comic superhero, but merely a British theologian) accomplishes many things in this little tome, his signal contribution is the articulation of a “subversive fulfillment” model of cultural engagement, involving four steps: enter, explore, expose, and evangelize. 191 pages. Level 1.5.
- Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway, 2017). Studies reveal that smartphones are making us increasingly dumb, lonely, depressive, narcissistic, compulsive, and cynical. Why? Because our smartphones have come to control us. Reinke’s genius is articulating the smartphone’s influence in “12 ways,” all the while showing us how to think well and make wise choices concerning our phones. 224 pages. Level 2.
- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central, 2016). This is one of the best non-fiction cultural analyses of our century. In it, Newport argues that “deep work” (the ability to concentrate on a mentally demanding task) is valuable, rare, and meaningful. Yet, many of us are unable to “go deep,” drowning as we are in an ocean of email, text, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram notifications. Newport argues convincingly that we must find a way to minimize these distractions so that we can do deep work. 304 pages. Level 2.
- Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (Portfolio, 2019). In the sequel to Deep Work, Newport offers a thoughtful method to help people decide what technological tools to use, for what purposes, and in which circumstances. 304 pages. Level 2.
- Jean M. Twenge, iGen (Atria, 2018). The subtitle of this book, “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,” just about says it all. Well worth the read. 352 pages. Level 2.5.
- Derek C. Schuurman, Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture, and Computer Technology (IVP Academic, 2013). If you’re looking for an introductory academic text on Christianity and technology, this is your book. Schuurman is a professor of computer science who writes from within the Kuyperian tradition. Thus, he frames the discussion from within the biblical categories of creation, fall, and redemption, while also drawing upon Herman Dooyeweerd’s modal philosophy to show the multi-faceted nature of technology. A fine contribution. 138 pages. Level 3.
- Jacob Shatzer, Transhumanism and the Image of God (IVP Academic, 2019). This book’s signal contribution is its ability to summarize a little-known topic—transhumanism and its desire to catalyze the “next stage” in human evolution—while evaluating it deftly in light of biblical teaching, especially the Incarnation. 192 pages. Level 3.
- Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (Gingko, 2017). First published in 1967, twentieth-century classic explored the multi-faceted effects various media have on an individual’s sensory faculties. Each medium produces a unique effect on the sensory faculties, changing the way we view the world. 60 pages. Level 3.5.
- Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Knopf, 1992). In this classic text, Postman argued that the United States is a “technopoly” which seems unaware of the negative sides of technological primacy. Forging ahead blindly, we elevate “efficiency” and “technical calculation” to supreme status, handing over the affairs of the nation to technophiles and technocrats. A must-read. 222 pages. Level 4.
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Penguin, 2005). Originally published in 1985, this book argues that our increasing tendency to express ideas through visual imagery reduces serious matters—such as news, opinion, politics, and history—to entertainment. Thus, future generations would be unable to engage in serious discourse, and media outlets and political leaders would conduct public business in the manner of a carnival or Hollywood movie. 208 pages. Level 4.
- Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin, 2015). In a society in which our smartphones and other devices distract us continually, feeding the more superficial aspects of my consciousness while starving the deeper aspects, Turkle argues powerfully that we must once again prioritize face-to-face conversation. 448 pages. Level 4.
There are many other excellent books I recommend, such as Lance Strate’s Amazing Ourselves to Death (an appreciative re-examination of Postman’s essential ideas for our twenty-first century context) and Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen’s Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (in which a neuroscientist and a psychologist explain how today’s distractions serve as “mighty forces” undermining our ability to conceive, plan, and carry to completion meaningful goals). But for now, this list of 12 will suffice as a “starter kit” for Christians wishing to live faithfully amidst the dizzying array of new technologies vying for our attention.