The Pace of Modern Life and the Loss of Letter Writing Circa 1900

If you don’t read the web comic XKCD, you’re missing out on some of the best of the Internet.

This week, the author posted some wonderful quotes about the problems with the pace of modern life including the loss of letter-writing, the inability to read, and the increase in anxiety – all from over 100 years ago.

The art of letter-writing is fast dying out. When a letter cost nine pence, it seemed but fair to try to make it worth nine pence … Now, however, we think we are too busy for such old-fashioned correspondence.We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.
The Sunday Magazine
It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry. In olden times it was different.
The Medical Record
With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… The dreamy quiet old days are over… For men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel … leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… The hurry and bustle of modern life … lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day’s work done, took their ease…
William Smith, Morley: Ancient and Modern
Conversation is said to be a lost art … Good talk resupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying.
Frank Leslie’s popular Monthly, Volume 29
Intellectual laziness and the hurry of the age have produced a craving for literary nips. The torpid brain … has grown too weak for sustained thought.
There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.
Israel Zangwill, The Bachelors’ Club
The art of pure line engraving is dying out. We live at too fast a rate to allow for the preparation of such plates as our fathers appreciated. If a picture catches the public fancy, the public must have an etched or a photogravured copy of it within a month or two of its appearance, the days when engravers were wont to spend two or three years over a single plate are for ever gone.
Journal of the Institute of Jamaica, Volume 1
So much is exhibited to the eye that nothing is left to the imagination. It sometimes seems almost possible that the modern world might be choked by its own riches, and human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary.
The articles in the Quarterlies extend to thirty or more pages, but thirty pages is now too much so we witness a further condensing process and, we have the Fortnightly and the Contemporary which reduce thirty pages to fifteen pages so that you may read a larger number of articles in a shorter time and in a shorter form. As if this last condensing process were not enough the condensed articles of these periodicals are further condensed by the daily papers, which will give you a summary of the summary of all that has been written about everything.
Those who are dipping into so many subjects and gathering information in a summary and superficial form lose the habit of settling down to great works.
Ephemeral literature is driving out the great classics of the present and the past … hurried reading can never be good reading.
G. J. Goschen, First Annual Address to the Students, Toynbee Hall. London
The existence of mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people, especially in large cities, is an obvious phenomenon … the mania for stimulants … diseases of the mind are almost as numerous as the diseases of the body… This intellectual condition is characterized by a brain incapable of normal working … in a large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life, with its facilities for rapid locomotion and almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe
The Churchman, Volume 71
The cause of the … increase in nervous disease is increased demand made by the conditions of modern life upon the brain. Everything is done in a hurry. We talk across a continent, telegraph across an ocean, take a trip to Chicago for an hour’s talk… We take even our pleasures sadly and make a task of our play … what wonder if the pressure is almost more than our nerves can bear.
G. Shrady (from P.C. Knapp)
“Are nervous diseases increasing?” Medical Record

To take sufficient time for our meals seems frequently impossible on account of the demands on our time made by our business… We act on the apparent belief that all of our business is so pressing that we must jump on the quickest car home, eat our dinner in the most hurried way, make the closest connection for a car returning …

Louis John Rettger. Studies in Advanced Physiology
In these days of increasing rapid artificial locomotion, may I be permitted to say a word in favour of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long Walk?
I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten. We live in days of water trips and land trips, excursions by sea, road and rail-bicycles and tricycles, tram cars and motor cars …. but in my humble opinion, good honest walking exercise for health beats all other kinds of locomotion into a cocked hat.
T. Thatcher, “A plea for a long walk”,
The Publishers Circular
The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles–at a rush–without pausing to consider their surroundings … what has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. The profession of letters is so little understood, and so far from being seriously appreciated, that … Newspapers are full, not of thoughtful honestly expressed public opinion on the affairs of the nation, but of vapid personalities interesting to none save gossips and busy bodies.
Marie Corelli,
Free opinions, freely expressed

Read the complete transcript here

Pace of Modern Life

Read the complete transcript here

Interview with

bigbible logo
Following the interview with DJ Chuang, I wanted to post a text interview I did with, and also point you to their website as a great resource.

Interview with

If you haven’t checked out the “BigBible” website, you’re definitely missing out. They are doing some great work on how to help Christians think about “bible engagement” in the digital age. I’m hoping to being doctoral work in this area soon, and I really value the research and blogging they are doing. Andrew Byers (a Ph.D. student in New Testament) put together a book review and multipart interview with me, and I’d like to thank him and the site for doing this:

Here’s a sampling:

AB: What are some ways that digital technology may be shaping us unhealthily in our media habits?

JD: In the previous century, wonderful advances in transportation and food availability have allowed more mobility and prevented hunger. However, this has also led to the obesity epidemic sweeping over America for people without proper disciple in diet and exercise. I think we might be seeing the same thing with our information diet, in that many people are training themselves to consume lots of small bits of information, but they are failing to exercise their ability to do deep thinking and reading.

AB: What about healthy aspects of digital technology? Are there ways that our use of the Internet and the latest communication devices are strengthening us?

JD: In the Southern part of the United States, we’ve had Christian sub-cultures where people could go about their lives never exposed to the way most of humanity actually lives. I think digital media make it very hard to stay in that kind of cloistered world, and forces Christians of all stripes to enter into a broader society and have some contact with the Other (albeit, often in a disembodied way). Social media can expose areas of real need in the world, and it also allows Christians from around the world to connect on common ministry goals and gifting.

DJ Chuang on Social Media Church


DJ Chuang is one of those rare individuals who is able to be helpful to the church in many areas.

He’s a fellow DTS grad who writes and speaks on a variety of topics from issues in the Asian-American church to leadership and ministry through social media. One of his projects is Social Media Church where he as a weekly podcast. This week, we Skyped together and had a great conversation on technology, church, Google Glass, and more.

H+: New Web Show about Posthumanism

I just noticed this preview for Bryan Singer’s new show called H+: The Digital Series which premiers online August 8th. Here’s the synopsis:

A groundbreaking new series by acclaimed producer Bryan Singer, H+: The Digital Series takes viewers on a journey into an apocalyptic future where technology has begun to spiral out of control… a future where the world’s population has retired its cell phones and laptops in favor of stunning new device by Hplus Nano Teoranta, an innovative technology company that has found a way to connect the Internet to the human mind 24 hours a day.

Since I’m kind of nerdy, I actually do love scifi just for scifi’s sake. But I especially love scifi when it explores the meaning of being human. From the trailer, I can’t tell if this show is just for horror/shock value or if it will actually be reflective in any real sense, but here’s hoping!

Around the Web: Facelifts for Facetime and Social Media for the Mainline

Slaves to the Smartphone – Even articles written from the perspective of a business person interested not primarily in maintaining human dignity, but in worker efficiency, argue that too much time with a smartphone makes you less productive. Some businesses want to prevent that even if it means requiring employees to turn off their phones. [HT: Rhett Smith]

FaceTime Facelift – If you’re totally vain like me, you might have noticed that the angle at which we hold our smartphones during video chat is not particularly flattering. A plastic surgeon has proposed a special procedure to taylor your face for just this point of view. Wow, talk about technology shaping humanity.

Digital ministry, made for the mainline – On Duke’s Faith and Leadership blog, Elizabeth Drescher argues that evangelicals, with their emphasis on individual conversion were perfectly matched to broadcast media, but not so much to the democratic, community focus of social media. Mainline Christianity, however, Dresher believes is better suited to adapting ecclesiology to social media and blurring the lines between “the place where we do religion” and our daily lives. Be sure to read the second page.

Around the web

What I Wish My Pastor Knew About: Responsible Engineering and Technology – “As an engineer, it strikes me as odd sometimes that many Christians I know will expend a great deal of energy and passion arguing about theories of science, while at the same time unquestionably accepting nearly every new technological development that comes along.”

Home: how the internet has changed our concept of what home is “What the web has inspired, then, is a postmodern understanding of what “home” is: a de-physicalised, conceptual and psychological phenomenon that externalises its invisible meanings. And interaction designers recognise this: the web is another castle that the Englishman can live in, and he seeks to create virtual places that have as much effect on pride, self-esteem and identity as the bricks and mortar version where he sleeps.”

Wisdom 2.0: The Digital World Connects – Interesting advice from Buddhists and tech celebrities: “We need to be able to love that newest, latest thing but also completely realize that what’s going to matter on our deathbed when we’re saying goodbye to our bank account, our iPhone, and our name is whether we’ve lived a life that’s been connected to what truly matters.”

Tablet Jokes on TV

Last week, Amazon announced the latest versions of Kindle (Kindle, Kindle Touch, and old school Kindle Keyboard) and its new tablet device called Kindle Fire (great analysis by John Gruber, death of the book by Nicholas Carr). And within a few days, the TV shows were already making jokes.

Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update

This is funny. But I do think he’s wrong.

The Office: Power of the Pyramid

Classic Office. Overdone, but fun.

Bonus: This one has off-color language, but it’s a funny take on husbands and technology. 

A Great New Blog and Great New Book

OUTSPOKEN: Conversations on Church Communication

Tim Schraeder of Center for Church Communication asked 60+ authors and creatives (including me) to contribute some thoughts on the importance of communication in the big-C Church as well as in small-c local churches. The chapters are just 500 words which means the authors got to their point quickly and you can read it in short sittings.

The book has turned into a really fun project with a great back story and it’s being officially released at this year’s Story Conference. Go check out the book website and if you’ve read it, let me know what you think.


I’ve also been introduced to a great, new blog called tech.soul.culture: Reflections on Technology, Culture, and Christian Spirituality written by former software developer turned Seattle Pacific University Professor David Sterns.

What I love about Dr. Sterns posts is that he has 20 years of software development under belt as well as a doctorate in science and technology studies (or STS, “science, technology and society”). He’s also a deeply reflective Christian and these elements combine into thoughtful engagement with technology and culture. He written some great thoughts on defining technology, instrumentalism, and culture as well as reviews of books like Alone Together, Here Comes Everybody. He recently wrote a review of my book From the Garden to the City that is kind, but also offers some helpful critiques.

If you’re interested in technology, culture, and Christianity, go subscribe to his blog asap!

Around the Web

Divine Inspiration – “How Catholicism made Marshall McLuhan one of the twentieth century’s freest and finest thinkers.” A nice, short history of McLuhan’s development and thought.

The Online Looking Glass – There are quite a few articles about Representative Weiner’s behavior, but the ideas toward the end of this one are interesting. “Contemporary narcissism” is not so much about a person being self-focused, but about needing constant validation.

Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts. – Adapted from a commencement speech at Kenyon University, this piece by Jonathan Franzen is a welcome urge in the direction of painful love in an age of easy “likes.”