Thursday, April 12, 2012

Digital vs. Analog Scriptures

My blogging friend MMM has blogged about paper vs. electronic scriptures, and it’s engendered a lot of comments from his faithful readers. I’ve been intrigued by the subject, and I’m even more intrigued by my own behavior.

Until December 26, 2011, I was a dyed-in-the-wool, paper-only, don’t-take-that-quad-away-from-me scripture reader. I proudly carried my little brick (my eyes are still good enough to use the “standard” format) with me to church each week, to family scripture study and to my personal study and lesson preparation.

On December 26, 2011, my world changed, scripturally speaking. Santa brought my wife a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and I liked hers so much that I went out and bought one for myself on December 26. (My lovely wife hid her annoyance at my doing this, for which I continue to be thankful.) I found the Kindle Fire easy to use, easy to read, and it was super-easy for me to mark, bookmark, cross-reference and study the scriptures. I have not turned back.

This surprises me for several reasons:

1. A number of years ago, our stake president told me he’d been counseled by a visiting authority to get new scriptures every couple of years and start marking them anew. The visiting authority held that by using scriptures with old marking (and I’m paraphrasing what I remember my SP’s saying about the visiting authority said, so I might be getting this a little wrong), we rely on old learnings. By marking a fresh set of scriptures we see things with new eyes and we will notice things we did not see before. Even as I was formulating how I could say how silly I thought that was, my SP told me he wasn’t really thrilled by the counsel, and how he was very slow to follow it (a highly unusual move for him, by the way). That is until he lost his scriptures a few weeks later and had to buy a new set. And then he found what the visiting authority had said was true: he was learning new things, seeing things in a new light, as he studied his new set of scriptures. I heard all that and still didn’t trade in my well-worn scriptures for a new set.

2. I’m not a real technophile. I mean, I like my computer and my cell phone, but I don’t have a cell phone data plan, and my phone theoretically has texting capability, but I rarely use it. I don’t want my e-mail in my pocket, frankly. And I don’t feel a need for universal connectivity. And I really don’t want to try to read scriptures or lessons on my cell phone – the screen is just too small for me.

3. I love books. I like going to my public library and browsing the stacks. I like buying books at the airport and reading them on planes. I even found an English bookstore in Shanghai a couple of years ago when I was there on an extended trip so I could find some new books to read. I like the feel of paper in my fingers and the sense of progress as I see my bookmark move through the book over time. It’s not that I just like reading, but I like the books I read, too.

Given all of that, I would not have expected to flip almost instantly to an electronic scripture-studier. And yet I have. I have the very simple and free download of LDS Gospel Library (the free one from the Kindle App store). It allows me to mark in multiple colors, to write notes, and (once I figure out how to do it) to save them to my LDS account. I can slip my Kindle Fire into my suit coat pocket when I go to church. And, like my stake president, I’m finding that visiting authority’s counsel is true: I’m seeing many new things in the scriptures; I’m reading them in a different light since I’m marking them for the first time. Yes, I could play Angry Birds or surf the web during class if I wanted to, but I don’t. I am an adult, after all, and I can make choices about how I behave.

That said, we still encourage our kids (who do not have electronic scriptures; they will get them when they pay for them themselves) to bring their scripture bricks to church and to family scripture study. We encourage them to mark them and to cross reference them. Our son uses paper scriptures in seminary (and has memorized the scripture mastery scriptures). Our kids would love to play with our Kindle Fires during church, but we don’t let them. We are adults, after all, and we can make choices about how we behave.

I substitute in my son’s Sunday School class from time to time. (His teacher tells me I’m the preferred substitute of the class, for everyone except son, that is, who would probably rather have anyone but me there.) I teach with my Kindle Fire in hand. Some of the students have paper scriptures and some (whose parents think differently than we do) have electronic ones. Those with electronic ones sometimes do other things with their electronic devices. Of course, in this group of 15-year olds, there is a pretty constant undercurrent of other things going on, whether it’s a running commentary on the lesson, on whatever else in on their minds, or what is on someone’s electronic device. Because I am a substitute, I do not demand silence. I believe as a teacher I need to earn their attention. Yes, the electronics make that more challenging, and if I were their regular teacher, I might take a different approach.

(I’ve actually had an idea while writing this post that I’ll try when I substitute next Sunday. I think I’ll put a table in the room where we have class, and ask all the student to put their scriptures (electronic and otherwise) flat on the table in front of them. That way I’ll be able to see whether they are staying in the scriptures or not. Of course, whether their minds are in their scriptures or not is another matter, and I won’t be able to see that…)

Our Young Women’s presidency does a cool thing. They have a wicker basket at the door of YW meetings (Sunday and mid-week) which is labeled “Basket of Worldly Cares.” They invite the YW to put all their electronics (and any other distractions) in the basket at the beginning of YW and to retrieve them at the end. That way, the YW can concentrate on face-to-face communication during the YW class or activity. That’s a great idea.

In a recent stake youth fireside, they posted signs at the entrances inviting the kids to leave their electronics put away. The stake YM president explained that they would not need to be checking scripture references during the meeting, and therefore there was no need for any electronics of any kind in the meeting. That worked for that meeting, too.

Personally, I don’t think the answer is to keep electronics away from our kids forever. It is to teach them how to use them and how to learn to turn them off when the time is right. In our home (and we are not a model of all that is right and good, but I can only tell you what we do), the kids sometimes have to take time away from screens – any screens (TV, computer, cell phone, laptop, video games…), and typically when they can use screens, it’s for a limited time and often a specific purpose. They’ve come to accept our approach (though, being kids, they try to get around our guidelines all the time), and I even heard my 15-year old complain the other day that he’d spent too much time on screens and wanted less screen time the next day. That’s a start to his learning to sort that out for himself.

To my fellow congregants, I hope you won’t judge me for using my electronic scriptures. Although I can assure you I’m not playing Angry Birds (I really don’t like Angry Birds, anyway…), it shouldn’t matter to you if I am.

What’s your experience with electronic scriptures?


  1. The only electronic device I have is an iPod Touch. I take it to church because it is easier to carry than my paper scriptures. However, I am getting a little annoyed with the size of the print in my iPod. I prefer to read the scriptures at home using my regular paper ones. I have seen others use iPads and Kindles, but I haven't bought either of those. I work in Primary, and I have seen some of the older children carry electronic devices, which I think is a little over-the-top.

  2. Hi Paul, I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas and I think it's great for church. I have manuals, scriptures and other references all in one easy to carry package. I still love books when I want to read but that is rarely what we use books for at church. We use them for reference and digital references are by far easier and more accessible, and therefore more used, than paper.

  3. I have the scriptures on my iPad. I prefer to bring my scripture "brick" to church, though, instead of my iPad. My electronic scriptures are really good for chasing footnotes I'm curious about, since I can do it really fast. I love being able to search the scriptures with a find function for specific words and find all instances it is used. I love being able to highlight and put little symbols in.
    However, my methods of scripture marking are not limited to highlighting, or underlining, so electronic scriptures begin to seem limiting when I want to draw pictures, bracket, outline, draw arrows, insert numbers, insert letters, or just plain write big over everything.

    My belief is that if I learn something, I should be writing it in a scripture journal so that I can still have it when/if I need to get a new set of scriptures.

    Here's a thought: what happens when you need to get a new set of electronic scriptures? ;-)

  4. Michaela, in response to your parting question, I guess the same thing that would happen if I needed to get a new set of paper scriptures -- I'd get them and start over.

    I remember reading somewhere that President Kimball used to read and mark paper copies of the Book of Mormon and then give them to his grandchildren (and perhaps others) as gifts.

    What I'm finding now is that I don't miss my old markings; marking them "fresh" is somewhat invigorating to me (and to my scripture study) much to my own surprise.