Proceed with caution


You can tell you're getting old when your first reaction to new technology is suspicion:

"Look at all these kids 'friending' each other on Facebook. How can you be friends with somebody you never even met?"

"What's up with this email? Don't folks know how to write letters any more?"

"What's this? A 'ball-point pen'? Look how it skips and jams-the old reliable ink pot never did that."

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"Writing?? What's wrong with memory?"

OK, so I'm getting old. But I'm also invested in books, both to read and to write, and "book apps" give me feelings decidedly mixed. On the book blog I write with Emily Whitten, I shared some of these feelings about an app version of Peter Rabbit, which gives a lovely interactive spin to the Beatrix Potter classic. And I do mean lovely-charming too. But, I'm afraid, deeply inimical to actual reading, at the very age when children ought to be developing a sense of how words shape ideas and images.

My feelings about Bible apps are mixed as well. What's not to like about the Glo Bible, with its HD video clips and maps, reading plans, animations, virtual tours, topical search engines, easy navigation, art images, and adjustable text? Nothing, really. I like it a lot. I can see how the Glo Bible, soon available for iPhones, can be taken anywhere and used as a study guide, a research text, and a witnessing tool. I can see how the digital generation has lost or is losing touch with traditional Bibles, which are bulky and require some preliminary work to understand. "More than a Bible"? I can see that too: According to the promo, it's a "media platform full of Christian resources, constantly updated." Is Glo, and similar applications, the "future of the Bible"? Probably so. And that I don't like.

Reading black letters on a white page has been in decline for decades, and every year there's more speculation that digital innovation has encouraged the decline. Thirty-somethings and up are accustomed to getting information from a printed page, but it's not certain that subsequent generations will get the hang of it. To those who say that interactive reading is just another form of reading, I say, "No it's not." It's different, maybe even fundamentally different. It's input-based, in that the "reader" is shaping his own reading "experience." He's punching buttons to get the desired content, not taking time to have a conversation with the content as it is. He is acting on the media, rather than allowing the media act on him.

For instance, the Glo tutorials show how to do a specific topical search for Bible passages. Say you want to look up the words of Jesus in John's Gospel, but you want only the words spoken by Jesus in Jerusalem during Passion Week. The Glo Bible lets you incorporate the Atlas lens, the Timeline lens, and the Topical lens to locate and highlight those passages. Cool!

But there's another method: read John 12-19. A red-letter edition may make it a little easier to find the actual words of Jesus, but they're easy enough to locate. Pay attention to context, crowd reaction, building themes. Let the Spirit talk to you, change you. It takes time to learn to do this, time that an iPad user with a busy index finger may not feel like taking.

Promotion for the Glo emphasizes using the Bible as a sourcebook for "answers for life's problems." But that's not all the Bible is, or not even chiefly what it is. It's God's communication to us. Too much cutting and pasting, clicking, sorting, and virtual touring can obscure that fact for a reader who's not already very familiar with the contents.

All technology involves trade-offs, some more consequential than others. The Glo Bible and other apps can be useful, even amazing supplements to Bible study, so more power to those who use them. I would just tell my young friends not to neglect the plain printed word. Don't expect an app to "bring the word of God to life"; only the Holy Spirit does that.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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