Compressing Spiritual Growth in the Age of Acceleration

The opinion of this young man, and of our age, is that super-spirituality is most attainable by those who ingest the highest quantity of edifying media.

Rosa’s basic argument is that our western experience is a forever-accelerating economic system, reinforced politically and socially. Said another way, acceleration is the desire we feel to collapse life into a series of discrete moments and experiences — email to email, tweet to tweet, text to text, snap to snap, meeting to meeting, image to image, and video clip to video clip. All of life, even real experiences with hard edges, are rendered into moments or incidents. Like LEGO pieces, the moments of our lives are made into discrete bricks, stacked end to end, in order to be compressed into a smaller time-cost.

 

Last week I spoke at Texas A&M on smartphone use and abuse. After the event, a young man approached me with a personal concern. Digital media was getting in the way of his schoolwork and responsibilities on campus.

This student’s situation is common, but he wasn’t distracted by Instagram and Snapchat or Fortnite — he was distracted by the many sermons and Christian podcasts he was trying to ingest all week. He’s a well-intentioned young man, and he’s not alone.

I applauded his taste for edifying content. Surely he could harbor a craving for worse things! And then I reminded him that his struggle predates podcasts. More than a century ago, this same impulse led people to church-hop and celebrity-chase the most popular preachers in London. The Puritans tried to tamp down this trend, as did Spurgeon, but the spirit of the hunt lives on in the digital age. Without prayer and meditation, feeding on daily sermons would do little good, said Spurgeon. The spiritual life has an implicit pace of progress, measured not by the speed of exposure but by the speed of internal processing.

In our brief interaction, I reminded this young man that when God wants to warp-speed our sanctification, he has a plethora of tools at his disposal to do so — mostly in the form of personal suffering.

The opinion of this young man, and of our age, is that super-spirituality is most attainable by those who ingest the highest quantity of edifying media. But this impulse, which can drive us toward a mountain of good and helpful content, is also fueled by one of the great dynamics of our age, detailed in German sociologist Hartmut Rosa’s book, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (2015).

Rosa’s basic argument is that our western experience is a forever-accelerating economic system, reinforced politically and socially. Said another way, acceleration is the desire we feel to collapse life into a series of discrete moments and experiences — email to email, tweet to tweet, text to text, snap to snap, meeting to meeting, image to image, and video clip to video clip. All of life, even real experiences with hard edges, are rendered into moments or incidents. Like LEGO pieces, the moments of our lives are made into discrete bricks, stacked end to end, in order to be compressed into a smaller time-cost.

As we pack more of these moments into our lives, and as we increase the number of experiences per minute, we feel like time is speeding up. We feel as if our lives move at warp-speed, while the clock ticks away at its same old pace.

Read More