Amusing ourselves to death

Amusing ourselves to death

Renee EllisonAug 31, '22


Our culture is addicted to media.  If you don't believe it, have your family go for one weekend without it.  Is this REALLY the good life?  What are we trading for it?  Is there any hope of controlling it?

Just because we are getting an abundance of information doesn't mean we are THINKING.  And just because we are being entertained doesn't mean we are LIVING.  And social technology may actually be dwarfing relational growth with people right in our own living rooms.  Preference for "cyberspace life" over "real life" could be moving us further and further into territory we hadn't counted on.

What has happened to our spiritual lives with the invasion of these chronic external stimuli?  Have we lost our spirits beside the road somewhere, while we traffic in the ever-insistent immediate?  Are we praying as much as we are WATCHING?  Are we praying at ALL?  "May the eyes of their hearts be enlightened," said the Apostle Paul.  This was a blessing prayed over us by a mature brother even where there was NO MEDIA on earth.  He wanted us to put on THESE glasses and SEE these things.  This saint's coveted wish for us was generated only DURING his prayer (if he hadn't been praying, he wouldn't have thought of it) and would only ever be experienced by us during OUR prayer.  Daniel received huge revelations from God only because he was ALREADY praying three times a day.  Those insights were not given to the bum down the street who watched chariot races all day.  Via our intoxication with media, are we closer or further from these blessings of the heart?

Also: because of our ever-engulfing submersion in media what has happened to our reach to real need down the street? What have we really gained by chronically riveting our focus onto a 15-inch screen and a 15-second sound bite?  Is information the same as reason?  Is watching the same as doing?  What have we gained by so frequently dropping into altered realities via the visual fantasy life of movies beyond number, as well?  What happens to us when we traffic in moral rot?  What happens if we do even MORE of this?  Where does this LEAD?

Let's get up and out of our "media caves" for a moment and evaluate what is happening to us.  In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985; republished 2006), Neil Postman showed us incisively how we are replacing READING with watching, and how this is doing devastating things to both our cognition, brain function and our spirits.  This means that information is coming to us outside of a context, outside of a developing and cohesive logic, and outside of reflection time.  Hmm.  Do we become bigger people or smaller people if our brain and spirit are no longer exercised in these disciplines?

If we are at all worried about these trends, how do we gain control?  A good starting place is to give ourselves a moment to evaluate good uses and destructive uses of media.  Then work at remembering our findings tomorrow in the middle of renewed media bombardment.  Let's purposefully clutch a bit of sanity in regard to our mental diet; insist on its importance in our families.

The bottom line?  Give your children a "doing and becoming" childhood, not a "sitting and soaking" childhood.  Passivity was never the starch of heroes.  Applause is simply never given to people who do nothing but watch.

Good uses of media:

Watching conservative evening news (especially for the elderly) can be a good thing if used as a spur to PRAY over these world events, while one's emotions run hot over these issues.  Commercials would be an excellent time to do a little praying.  But too much news for the mid-lifers can diminish time to be productive.  Headlines can be snatched quickly on the run.

Any video that teaches a SKILL may be a wonderful use of media.  Skill development in electronics, construction, cooking, sewing, car mechanics, plumbing, health and nutrition, alternative medicine, etc.  Free education on hundreds of topics is available via the Internet; even excellent job training is available there.  This use of media is not fantasy; it extends our REAL lives.

Bad uses of media:

Using media as chronic white noise in doctor's offices, restaurants, elevators, hotels, and your own home, is destroying our head space.  What's the solution for your home?  TURN IT OFF.  Allow your family quiet reflection time as the main ingredient to their days.  Contrary to popular opinion, quiet is not bad.  Quiet has a silver lining.  True progressive UNINTERRUPTED thinking will begin to take place.  Genuine relating will happen more often without the background competition for attention.  A constantly splintered attention span will not produce what you are hoping for in your family.  It is no gift.

What's the solution for public life?  Take earplugs and a book everywhere whenever you head out (include ones for every child).  Incrementally and progressively become well-read.  Many used bookstores hang the slogan:  "So many books; so little time."  Tis true.  Habitually reading the rich content of good books will sour you on the shallowness of nearly all media.  Media is swamp and marsh, compared to the mining for gold possible when living in and around excellent books.  And make your reading choices devoid of trash.  Many magazines are insanely dumb; leafing through them is a sheer waste of minutes.  Take your OWN book everywhere.  Reading history frees us from arrogance over the present.  It is a deliverance from popular insistences.

Probably the poorest use of media is to use it as a babysitter for your child.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives didn't HAVE this option and somehow they all survived.  Neither was this option available for about 5,900 years.  We CAN get our children through the day without it, as staggeringly novel as that seems.  Turn it off and, instead, include your children in your adult dinners and your adult conversations, and your own projects with a little attendant companion project for them, right next to you.  Keeping your children near you and not near media will profoundly alter the development of the child for the better.  Knowing that there are little ears all around you will help you craft your own speech for purity and richness and will grow a mature child before his time.  Teach children the art of waiting for a space before interjecting a comment, and how to be brief with their comments, always aware of the time needed for OTHERS to have a say of equal length.  Time so used will teach them the almost lost art of ebb and flow to all invigorating and life-giving conversation.  "Conversation makes a ready man" (Francis Bacon).  Conversation is a skill which is progressively learned in the actual act—not by passivity in front of a screen.  Most youth today can't even look you in the eye, they are so doped up by habitually living in a stupor of dull stares upon a frantic screen.

When you and your family have a choice between another VISUAL fantasy story and reading, you'll get further in life if you pick the reading.  Hour for hour, minute for minute it culminates in a different kind of person at life's end—and all the way through.  Start with Eric Metaxas’ 580-page two-inch biography of Bonhoeffer (whose family members, by the way, were avid readers, along with performing excellent music in their home for family and guests at the end of each week) and you'll feel dwarfed in your human development.  Life can be lived on all sorts of levels, and those who live it deeply have much to teach us through BOOKS.  Most in our culture don't know that such a life is POSSIBLE.  Do something about this sabotage.

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