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The Benefits of Going Deeper

Nicholas Carr’s ground-breaking bookThe Shallows, describing the effect of the Internet on the way we learn and Interact, was first published in 2011. In the seven years since the book was released, we have come to better understand the meaning and implications of the book, because “the shallows" aptly describes the place where so many people dwell in this era of instant information and constant connection.

Despite greater access to knowledge, the virtually unlimited reservoir of information the Internet provides has dampened the quality of our interactions with one another as well as the way we take in and process content. To summarize Carr’s conclusions,

  • Breadth of knowledge is not the same as depth of knowledge;
  • An abundance of facts and data does not equal wisdom; and
  • The ability to connect with an unlimited number of people does not lead to deeper relationships.

In the publishing profession where I work, this migration away from the depths of knowledge, wisdom, and relationships has had profound implications. Skimming news feeds and constantly checking social media sites do not require much if any concentration. Reading a book, by comparison, takes effort. You can’t multi-task while reading. It’s a demanding media. It takes time. But it is so very rewarding.

In fact, new research is showing just how rewarding. There are vast benefits to going deeper in almost every aspect of life. In particular, research by such credible centers as Yale University reveals that “deep reading”—defined as reading that is slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity—is distinctive from skimming or light reading, which is little more than the decoding of words easily forgotten.

Deep reading is a great exercise for the brain and has been shown to increase empathy, as the reader dives deeper and adds reflection, analysis, and personal subtext to what is being read. It can also affect social perception and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people live longer. That’s right, people who read more live longer. Researchers have found that people over 50 who read books for 30 minutes a day live an average of 23 months longer.

Honestly, you don’t need research to understand intuitively that going deeper in any endeavor, whether it’s in reading or relationships, improves the quality of life. Even GenZ kids, the so-called “digital natives,” are starting to catch on to the negative effects of living in the shallows. A friend of mine told me last week that her two kids, one in college and the other in high school, are asking for flip phones so they are less likely to waste time on their smartphone screens. They want deeper experiences, not shallow ones.

Recently my wife and I had dinner in Manhattan with a young woman who has moved to New York to become a Broadway singer. She’s paying her dues, running from audition to audition, working with a voice coach, making strategic connections. In the hustle of her life, she knows how important it is to find a church community. She’s tried several and finds those churches that live in the shallows to be unappealing. “I want something deeper in the worship and Bible teaching,” she told us.

That’s not the first time I’ve heard language like that from a millennial, or people of any age, for that matter. My wife is part of a teaching team at our church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in Newport Beach, leading a study called—you guessed it—Deeper. Her students tell her that they look at Scripture differently when they study the Bible this way. They know God better in a deeper way.

People are discovering the riches of going deep—deep with books, deep with one another, deep with God’s Word, and deep with God. We are made for something more. And if we want to discover the riches of what God has to offer us in the depths of his truth, goodness and beauty, we need to escape the shallows and go to a deeper place.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.