What We Believe

The Digital Divide, edited by Mark Bauerlein

T. David Gordon

The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking, edited by Mark Bauerlein. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2011, xiv + 354 pages, $17.95, paper.

Readers of Ordained Servant may very well recall that Mark Bauerlein, in addition to teaching English Literature at Emory University, is the author of the influential 2008 volume The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone under Thirty). The present volume consists of twenty-seven essays by twenty-five authors, including essays by such well-known media ecologists as Todd Gitlin, Maryanne Wolf, Steven Johnson, Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle, Christine Rosen, and Maggie Jackson.[1] The twenty-seven essays are divided into three sections of nine each, arranged around “the brain, the senses,” “social life, personal life, school,” and “the fate of culture.”

The essays range across a fairly significant amount of time; Sherry Turkle’s is the oldest (1995), and the next-oldest is the paradigm-making 2001 essay by Marc Prensky, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” Most fall into the 2006–10 time frame. The editor of Ordained Servant even wondered if the essays were not dated, in light of so many recent developments in the digital world, and he was/is right—who talks about “Web 2.0” anymore, for instance? But this editorial concern itself is instructive, because in almost no other arena could a book, only two of whose twenty-seven essays antedate 2002, already be “irrelevant” in some of its particulars. The digital world is a head-spinning, rapidly-changing world. New words and expressions come (“You can Google it.”) and go (“my favorite Usenet group,” “MySpace”) quickly in such a world. The essays in this volume are, therefore, both timeless and dated, if that were possible—timeless because the observations about digital alterations to social structures, consciousness, and cognition itself are indeed altered by the digital environment, and “dated,” because some of the particular software or hardware is already obsolete. But that is, of course, part of the point.

Some of the particular essays have become cultural bell-weathers that will be read by media ecologists for years to come. Marc Prensky’s distinction between digital “natives” and digital “immigrants” will remain useful for the next couple decades, as it helps to describe the “divide” between the two that is so different between the generational divide that existed between my 1960s generation and our parents. We were very self-conscious of our intentional rejection of the status quo ante that we inherited. Digital natives, by contrast, are virtually (pun intended) unaware of a pre-digital world. They do not rebel against a pre-digital environment, because they simply do not know it; and can no more push against it than a Venetian gondolier with a four-foot pole can push against a water-bottom that is sixteen feet beneath the surface.

Among the important differences in point-of-view among the essayists are those between what I call inevitablists and non-inevitablists. For some of the authors, the digital world is simply a given—like gravity—that must be accommodated; for others, it is a given—like radon gas—that must be carefully monitored and limited, lest it become dehumanizing (my sympathies are more with the latter). It is beneficial to have that range of point-of-view present in a single volume.

All of the observations in this volume are insightful. Many are as pertinent now as when they were originally written, because they are observations about the rapidly-changing, visually-biased, language-contemptuous nature of the digital world per se. For students of media, the no-longer-pertinent observations are nearly as beneficial, because they remind us that we live in a world in which our capacity to develop new media is many times faster than our capacity to evaluate them. Readers who may be interested in media ecology per se will wish to familiarize themselves with evaluations of earlier media: orality, manuscript, typography, photograph, etc.; but busy pastors, elders, and deacons who wish to understand the present digital environment may very well find no other single volume that covers that environment (and the differing assessments thereof) better than this one.


[1] Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms our Lives (New York: Metropolitan, 2002); Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (New York: Harper, 2007); Steven Johnson, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (New York: Riverhead, 2005); Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (2008); The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010); Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic, 2011); Christine Rosen, many essays and editorials in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society; and Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2008).

T. David Gordon is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America serving as professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

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Ordained Servant: June 2015


Also in this issue

The Path to Ecumenicity

L’chaim: An Invitation to the Blessedness of Ecumenical Life

A New Heaven and a New Earth: A Review Article

How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith

The Church-floor

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