Came across what I thought was an interesting piece in the New York Times, Americans: Undecided About God?, about the rising percentage of Americans who declare their religious/spiritual affiliation as “None” but who still feel a personal need for the connectedness that organized religion brings. In it, the author (Eric Weiner) made the perhaps too-flip remark:
“We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone who can invent not a new religion but a new way of being religious.”
The article was about a lot of stuff, and the Steve Jobs reference was just an aside, an analogy. But that’s the bit I quoted in a Tweet …
not because I necessarily agreed or disagreed, but because I thought it was an intriguing thought. Nothing more, nothing less. What happened next was an interesting lesson in just how little attention people pay, and how ready people are to unload half-cocked thoughts, work from assumptions, and to have loud opinions without bothering to actually, you know, read. Because a few minutes later, Tim O’Reilly retweeted the quote to his 1.5 million followers, and the switchboard lit up.
I’ve stitched together a bunch of screenshots to show what the stream looked like, which is quite amazing (see below).
Many of the responses were thoughtful, but I was amazed at the number of users who apparently assumed that the quote was mine (it wasn’t), and/or made big assumptions about my personal beliefs. Though I had given no indication either way, many apparently assumed I was a religious person, and took the opportunity to insult me (these are apparently the same Angry Atheists referenced in the article, ever-ready to pounce at the slightest whiff of prey).
Interestingly, there were also comments that seemed to assume I was not religious, and who attacked me for that. Those readers were a bit closer to the truth, but still making assumptions that they could not possibly have enough information to make.
As it happens, I am an atheist, but a respectful one (I hope). I have no interest in tearing down people’s faiths, or in starting religious wars at any opportunity. I’ve spent decades of my life navigating various belief systems, before arriving comfortably at atheism in the past few years. Those of you who attacked me over this need to make fewer assumptions and to get a life.
But my biggest concern is that so many of the commenters appeared so eager to throw their opinions into the ring without actually reading the article the quote was from (otherwise they would not have written what they wrote).
That, my friends, is the danger of information overload and the “skimming culture” that arises from it. And there’s only one solution to that – slow the hell down and fully digest what you’re consuming. Even if it means you consume less in a day. It’s the equivalent of wolfing down your food without tasting it.