5 habits for cultivating wisdom online

April 27, 2021

The Internet and social media can help us become wise, but only if we approach them with great care and intention. To that end, here are five habits to consider as you evaluate the place of online media in your life.

1. Go with a purpose. Don’t just “surf”!

“Surfing the Net” was one of the early metaphors for what we do online, bringing to mind a sort of leisurely, “we’ll see where these links take me!” approach to riding the Web’s waves. But it is precisely this posture—going online just to stroll (or should I say “scroll”?) around its wide-open spaces—that leads us to fill every spare moment of our lives with insipid social media debates, mildly amusing cat videos, and other online ephemera. It is precisely this unconscious impulse to hop on our phone and just go somewhere that can lead us to dark places: pornography, toxic subcultures, fruitless comment section battles. Sadly, the ease with which we can jump online in our spare moments (whether 30 seconds at a stop light or 90 seconds in the Chick-fil-A drive-thru line) conditions us to eliminate every last shred of unmediated space in our lives—which is a terrible thing for cultivating wisdom. 

In his helpful book The Common Rule, Justin Earley suggests our spare moments should not be filled with online wandering, but rather “reserved for staring at walls, which is infinitely more useful.” He also suggests avoiding social media in bed and avoiding unplanned scrolling, which “usually means I’m hungry for something to catch my eye—and plenty of strange, dark, and bizarre things are happy to catch the eye on social media.” The digital wanderer is asking for trouble. Don’t go online without a plan. Go with a purpose, and stay online only as long as you need to. 

2. Quality over quantity

Given the glut of options online, and the above point that your online time should be limited only to purposeful activities rather than aimless wandering, it’s important to make the time matter. Consider following Cal Newport’s advice in Digital Minimalism, which he defines as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

How does one carefully select what to read, watch, listen to, or experience online? First, listen to the recommendations of trusted people in your life. Given the choice between reading an article that just popped into your Twitter feed because an advertiser put it there or reading an article because ten people you trust shared it on Facebook, go with the latter. Check out reviews of books from trusted websites before you decide what to read. Consult the writing of trusted film critics before choosing what to watch. Limit yourself to one podcast or one Netflix show a month, and only the ones enough trustworthy people have recommended. In a world where your time is scarce and everything is vying for your attention, don’t be a passive consumer who clicks on whatever comes your way. Be happy to bypass most of it, trusting that a smaller amount of excellent, curated dishes will be better for your wisdom diet than a vast amount of hit-or-miss, haphazard snacks. 

3. Slow down!

Even if you can’t control the speed of things online, you can control your speed. And a slower pace is almost always more conducive to wisdom. Time is a great filter for wisdom: the longer something lasts, the likelier it is to contain value. Don’t spend your time reading the hottest take or the “trending now” video. Instead, wait a bit and read the (usually better) cold takes. Read the Atlantic article from five years ago that people still reference; watch the “classics” of YouTube before the flavor-of-the-week clip. Once the novelty of something wears off, if people are still recommending it, maybe it’s actually worth your time. Don’t fear missing out on most things online. Most of it is missable and will be quickly forgotten. To slow down—until history’s filter gives you reason to pay attention—is to be a wiser consumer online. 

The same goes for what you contribute online. Speed is treacherous when it comes to posting your opinion on social media or fanning some rapidly spreading flame. We often jump on an online bandwagon before we realize it has a broken axle. Take time to vet the truth and consider the wisdom of something before you share it, to consider the potential impact of your words before you post. Remember Scripture’s “slow to speak” wisdom. 

4. Diversify your exposure

Be intentional about diversifying the voices we listen to. Don’t just read articles from the same bias-confirming sources. Don’t only tune in to the radio shows where your opinions are confirmed. Challenge yourself by actually giving attention to well-articulated versions of the “other side” of arguments. Respect your ideological opponent (and yourself!) by truly seeking to understand the other perspective. 

Try to populate your social media feeds with sources representing a variety of perspectives—politically, culturally, geographically, racially, and so forth. Read international takes on your own nation’s news. Listen to podcasts outside your comfort zone. Watch documentaries on streaming sites that provoke you to think deeply (even if not, in the end, differently) about some issue. Take advantage of the Internet’s platforming of voices you might not otherwise have opportunities to hear. One way to love your digital neighbors is to listen to them, even if what they have to say is hard for you to hear. Remember, you don’t have to fully agree with others online in order to glean some truth from their perspectives. 

5. Share what’s good!

One of the blessings of the Internet and social media is the ability to easily share what we have personally found helpful, good, true, or beautiful. One of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes comes from Reflections on the Psalms: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Don’t feel guilty about posting online about a movie or book you loved, or sharing a photo on Instagram of your spouse, child, backyard, or something else you found delightful. The public praising of these things is a key part of our enjoyment of them. If you love discovering good music, create playlists on Spotify and share them. If you love taking photos of beautiful architecture, post them on an Instagram account. If you loved a restaurant or stayed at an amazing hotel, share a glowing review online that might lead others to discover it. Use the Internet to turn what you love into something that blesses others, rather than turning what you hate into something that angers others. 

What would happen if everyone started to use the Internet more to celebrate the good than to add to the noise with hateful tweets and trigger-happy rants? What would happen if we used our online platforms to praise others rather than for promoting our own views and signaling our own virtue? [And] what if we spent more time online publicly honoring people we do know than publicly shaming people we don’t? 

Content taken from The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.

Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is a senior editor and director of communications for The Gospel Coalition. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24