What Difference Do Digital Texts Make?
Recently I stumbled upon (or rather, Google alerts brought to my attention) a paper entitled, Accordance Bible Software in Reading and Teaching: The Difference a Digital Text Makes. In it, the author summarizes the results of a survey he posted a while back to our User Forums and Facebook page. The author summarized the purpose of the survey as follows:
This brief study addresses two interrelated questions. First, what are the similarities and differences between the reading/interpretation and teaching/preaching of, 1) printed Bibles, and 2) the digital texts in Accordance Bible software? And, second, what are the implications of these similarities and differences for theological education?
The results of the survey are fascinating and worth reading in their entirety. I'll just interact with a few aspects of them here.
The first three questions of the survey dealt with the respondents' typical Bible reading practices and use of Accordance in Bible reading. After that, the questions become more thought-provoking.
Question 4 asked to what extent and in what way using digital texts in Accordance has changed the respondents' practices of reading and interpreting the Bible. In other words, do you read and interpret the Bible differently using Accordance than you would with print resources? In general, the focus of the responses seems to be on the greater convenience of accessing information in Accordance: the ability to consult multiple translations, explore the Greek and Hebrew, access geographical info, etc. All of that requires significant effort in print, but is quite seamless in Accordance. This ease of access to information can be good or bad, of course. The danger is that it can lead to information overload and distract from meaningful meditation on the text. I was therefore encouraged to see that a number of respondents "observed that quicker access to Biblical passages left more time for rumination and reflection on the meaning of the text." That is, of course, our hope for every Accordance user.
Question 5 asked whether and how digital texts in Accordance have changed your methods of teaching or preaching. Respondents mentioned the many visual aids Accordance supplies, such as maps, timelines, graphs, and images, and one noted the advantage that, "Students can see the techniques and tools I use to inform biblical inquiry." Another respondent noted that Accordance helps them retain their knowledge and interaction with the biblical languages: "Without Accordance, I believe I would have slipped into the habit of doing what is most comfortable by only reading my English Bible, as is the case for many of my close friends after graduating from seminary."
One of the most fascinating questions asked to what extent the digital nature of texts in Accordance has changed the respondents' view of the nature of the Biblical text. In other words, does the difference in media change our experience of the Bible in any significant way? The respondents appear to have been split on Accordance's effect on their ability to focus on the text of the Bible:
Some respondents observed the “non-divided nature of studying on a computer,” without the need for different printed books, and the ability to study biblical content within broader context of scripture. Some observed that the convenience of resources in Accordance keeps them from “losing lines of thought while looking for information.” From a different perspective, a significant number or respondents found the printed Bibles more conducive to the contextualization of a passage, observing how “digital texts fragment the reading experience,” and “feel fragmentary due to the layout.”
Again, we see both the danger and the advantage of having so much information at your fingertips. On the one hand, using Accordance can result in a more fluid exploration of the text, with you consulting resources as needed and then returning to the text as the centerpiece of your study. On the other hand, your study can become fragmentary if you're not careful to limit the information you display and the resources you consult while reading. Accordance's flexible interface is designed to help you do just that, but you do need to take advantage of it to avoid a fragmentary reading experience. In future posts, I'll recommend some "best practices" for avoiding that kind of fragmentation.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend you read the paper in full. What answers would you give to the survey questions?