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Hyper or Hypo?

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hyper or Hypo?

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Ted Gregory chronicled how young adults live in an age of “hyper-connectivity.”

For example, David Macias has five personal electronic devices: a laptop, smartphone, e-reader and not one but two iPods — one for his car, one for workouts at the gym.

"I have trouble sleeping sometimes," the 19-year-old college freshman said while taking a break from watching a movie on his laptop in the College Of DuPage cafeteria. Macias said he sleeps with his cellphone, which wakes him when he receives a text.

"It's crazy," said Macias, of Aurora. "I've got to turn it off."

The idea of “hyper-connectivity” is being constantly connected to electronic devices.  It appears to be the bane of the so-called millennials, the generation born from 1981-2000 who came of age in the new millennium. 

Observers seem split on the effect this will have; some feel it will make millennials “nimble analysts and decision makers.”  Others feel it will mean an inability to retain information, a tendency to be easily distracted, and a lack of “deep-thinking capabilities” and “face-to-face social skills.”

I’m leaning toward the second camp.

A fascinating study was conducted by Stanford professor Clifford Nass in 2009 in order to determine the effects of media multitasking on concentration.  Those who engaged in heavy multitasking, courtesy of the internet, were less able to focus on a single task.  

An earlier study was conducted in 2007 at UCLA.  The goal was to study the Internet’s effect on brain activity.  Volunteers wore goggles that projected web pages while submitting to a whole-brain magnetic resonance image.  Novices to web surfing, after only six days at one-hour of surfing each day, began showing dramatic changes in brain activity.  Gary Small, a professor at UCLA, concluded that the Internet is “rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.” 

Pulling from the Stanford and UCLA studies, Nicholas Carr drew a startling conclusion in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain:  the internet is weakening our comprehension and transforming us into shallow thinkers.

Tim Challies writes that it is a simple and inevitable progression:  “With the ever-present distractions in our lives, we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts, and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living.”  Anecdotally, it seems to be an ongoing descent, meaning the more we use the internet, the worse it gets.  Though millions of websites exist, along with countless pages of books chronicling the knowledge of millennia, we seem more dependent than ever on news and information soundbites from Yahoo or AOL.  The most energy we seem willing to expend is a quick search on Google.  Or as Challies writes, “We have become scanners rather than engagers, skimmers in place of readers.” 

It brings to mind something the late historian Daniel Boorstin once suggested: “The greatest menace to progress is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.”

The opposite of hyper, from the Greek meaning “above” or “over” is “hypo,” from the Greek meaning “below” or “under.” 

So while it is an age of hyper-connectivity, perhaps we should also acknowledge the inevitable result.


James Emery White


“Hyperconnected: Brain gain or drain?,” Ted Gregory, Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2012. Read online.

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain.

Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Revolution.

Daniel Boorstin, Cleopatra’s Nose: Essays on the Unexpected (ed. Ruth Boorstin).


Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Hyper or Hypo?