The scriptures that we have today, have experienced the technological revolution of our time. Now we can read them on the internet, on our phone or on a tablet. How does that affect your study? If you have ever asked this question, then you and I are sitting on the same stone.
Reading, from the invention of the printing press, until a few years ago, was related to physical sensations. Simply referring to the Bible or the Book of Mormon comes to mind a certain weight and volume. The ideas acquired had spatial coordinates. That is, we associate a passage within a volume of sheets of paper, in a certain margin at a certain height.
Many times we remember texts or quotes because of their position on the page and if it is to the right or left of the book. Without realizing it, we relate the verses to a position in space. This makes it easier for the memory to find a certain text within a volume.
Our fingers on the paper surface, stop at the end in the desired place and we hit the index several times on the target. I found it. The book represents the embodiment of an idea in this world, the book is the physical body of words. The two worlds united, like us, in a place in history.
The electronic reading
The electronic reading, misplaces the knowledge of our space and takes it to nonexistent or virtual . Eliminates the feeling of solidity of its origin. The gold plates, replaced by sheets of paper, disappear. Our touch, which the witnesses used to feel the plates, is no longer necessary. The view is now on an electronic screen.
In my view, the exclusive use of electronic media impoverishes the experience of reading the scriptures. It removes thickness as practice and slims its effect on our senses.
What perception will future generations have of the gold plates if all the trace they have with them is limited to perceiving them through liquid crystal?
Virtualizing everything has the risk of making us lose contact with the original supports, with history, with its characters, with its past impressions, its stories and emotions.
We can imagine Jacob’s difficulties when he tells us
» …I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain;» ( Jacob 4: 1 ),
These nuances will be difficult to understand for a generation increasingly away from manual writing and print.
I have always believed that we should read The Book of Mormon at the speed of a punch on a metal plate, because at that speed Nephi processed his words. Therefore, the energy and intention of each one, was much more concentrated than a text of an e-mail or an SMS. But I understand that this pretension is impractical, because among other things we do not know at what speed the characters of the reformed Egyptian were engraved. And surely our young people move through words, like their fingers through the keyboard of a Smartphone.
The perception of the scriptures
Transferring a text of this nature to a support as fast and impersonal as an TFT screen, can modify our perception, even leading it through the paths of modern text processing. That is, blocks of concepts that can be copied, cut and pasted. For the generations that come with an almost exclusively digital formation, this can cause a hemorrhage of spiritual substance in their lives.
Moroni speaks clearly of his struggle with the language and support he used.
» … when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.» ( Ether 12:25 )
This kind of Moroni self-criticism goes unnoticed. But we can notice that he was aware of the influence of support in the understanding of the scriptures. However, we are not aware of the influence of electronic support in that same comprehension task. We have enthusiastically and meekly given ourselves to changes, that if not revised, can affect us. To think that they do not exist is a naïveté.
It is revealing that someone as experienced as Moroni, recognizes the weakness of his writing.. However, the Lord says that his «grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;» ( 26 ) It is from the recognition of his weakness in writing that Moroni is promised the grace of his future reading.
It is us, the ones we need now, to recognize the stumbling blocks of the modern way of reading the scriptures, so that they can continue that grace by strengthening the meek ones. It is what we have now, analyze our new support.
When we advance in printed reading, it requires an effort, leaving pages behind without proper reading. It is a small betrayal of the book in front of us. Because we see leaves before us, that we can imagine as gold plates and that we do not read. We feel we are failing.
When we come to 2 Nephi, there is a kind of moral duty to read Isaiah. Even though it is » which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews« ( 2 Nephi 25: 1 ). Even if we are the ones who stumble over his words, staggering through them, we go out later to a more welcoming land like Jacob.
When I was baptized and read the Book of Mormon, when I came to 2 Nephi 12, I was faced with a dilemma. Jump to 25 or read all the chapters of Isaiah. It was difficult because we were the book and me. Each sheet was a demand and to pass them in blank an act of resignation and … betrayal of the noble office of reading. It is an almost contractual situation. A book demands our presence on each page, otherwise the agreement is broken. His personality has been molded through the centuries.
A contractual change
However in the electronic reading is only the scroll to our right. It does not show the total content volume. Only the one of a chapter. It is very easy to move your finger and the processors of a computer core will make the words slide before us with speed, without weakness or stumbling . It is difficult to suppose that those words have occasion to whisper from the dust.
The writings in electronic format eliminate the touch of the leaves to our fingers, to the sound of hearing the crunch of the paper and the smell of smelling the old leather of its cover.
With paper, we grow old with them and see their wrinkles. There is a kind of loyalty to them, even when their leaves come off we do not want to get rid of them. We value their wisdom over their appearance, assuming their deterioration in their deterioration. Recognizing in them the shared moments, because our personal volume of writings over time, assumes a special identity, we establish an emotional bond.
If we have left them in an office in a conference, we leave at ninety-nine and search until we find them. They are not a download of a data network, for someone accustomed to them they are of great value.
The web reading application, being on our mobile, another icon, competes on equal terms with others for capturing our attention. The possibility of clicking on it is surrounded by fifty other options. It loses therefore, its old presence in the daily landscape. Whether it’s the living room table, our bedside table or the work bag.
By this I mean that digital changes are transmitted to real life in almost invisible ways, but in the long run blunt.
However, the qualities of electronic reading are undeniable when seeking efficiency in the search for information, portability in a busy life, sharing with large numbers of people at a time and in different destinations. Having the Book of Mormon on a mobile phone can help us read it in almost any situation. But to dislodge the paper completely, it is a mistake.
The unique use of electronic writings can convert the wisdom they have into information. It’s the price of technology.
The knowledge of the scriptures is of an agricultural nature. The processes of knowledge acquisition are slow and cyclical as Zenos teaches in Jacob 5 . There is no immediacy in the scriptures. The Lord of the vineyard waited a long time. The knowledge of priesthood descends as it sprinkled from heaven. Enos went hunting to deliberate on them. Nephi sat and reflected.
Moving to an «industrial» format forces us to pay a toll and accept a face, hidden at first. The technology applied to the scriptures invites to extract more than to harvest. To transport more than to treasure. To recite more than to meditate. The processes are fast, they are not human, they are non-agricultural electronic. They invite, these technologies, to consider the scriptures as supermarkets of teachings rather than as the tree whose fruit is desirable to make one happy. There is no harvest, there is storage and transport.
Although it may seem like it, (and it seems) I do not intend to fight technology. Among other things because it would be wrong and useless. I remember that one of the first jobs I did in web design, was to digitize the Book of Mormon and take it to a web page. I saw in the scriptures a nail to use with my hammer. I currently have them on my mobile phone. I can really read almost in each place. It gives me more opportunities to read them and be able to find what I want without spending a lot of time on it.
However, what I do believe is necessary to understand the consequences of the changesin such a vital issue. We can not alter the usages and customs in one of the fundamental stones of our spirituality and the new knowledge received, without carefully considering the consequences and what our strategy should be.
We can not and should not avoid new technologies, we can not run away. We must deal with them. We must read the scriptures on paper to meditate, but we can take them on our phone as another possibility to have them with us. That they are present in any situation.
We must negotiate everything with the technologies. Because these do not add to our life. The technologies do not negotiate with us, because they have in their substance to change everything. They are reactive, they are catalysts. They are strange and unpredictable. They do not teach their letters.
We can not accept the plan of salvation and opt for the virtual, as the only option. Otherwise we could have stayed there, as spiritual bytes and downloaded a probation.net file.
Technology and the gospel
As a sample, the internet has changed the practice of family history. It has made it accessible to all of us at any age or situation. This can be an example of how a technology has been skillfully adapted to a non-technical human objective. And that goal, to turn the heart, has not only remained original to the keys with which it opened to the world, but has grown in the hearts of millions.
But that perfect coupling and assimilation has been possible thanks to a strong religious component, to an extensive previous culture in the investigation of the memory of our ancestors. It has been possible to preserve the purity of our objectives before the onslaught of the internet because there has been a generation of members between typography and byte, which has been understood with both supports. And he has managed to put bridles to what is transforming everything. The Church has been able to negotiate with great skill in this field so vital to the preparatory plans. Will we do it in our personal life?
However, I observe with concern, how our young people, only carry their smartphones to meetings, conferences and even seminars. This gives me to understand that at home too. Teachers fight against this practice and I see in some adults the abandonment of the book by the tablet.
We should reflect on the correct traditions of our ancestors, which could coexist perfectly with the novelties of our time. And a tradition that we should ensure its conservation is that the personal study of the scriptures, not the preparation of a speech or class, I mean private and personal study. We should do this in ours, in our paper plates.
Modern Nephi does not have to gamble inheritance and his life to get the plates. Because it is surrounded by copies in all imaginable formats.
But he has to be very careful not to confuse the price of having them with the value they represent.