When I was in high school a friend of mine recommended the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. It was and still is a fascinating read; Postman proved to be prophetic regarding the negative influence of television and show business on our culture. I wish I could say my initial reading of that book caused me to stop watching television, but it didn’t. What it did do, however, was encourage me to think more critically about my viewing habits.
It wasn’t until college that I broke the habit. Ironically, I stopped watching TV, not because I wanted to break away from the “Devilvision” (as one of my brothers affectionally called it), but because I was extremely busy. It was not really a conscious decision. When I got married, my wife rarely watched TV as well. Some friends gave us our first TV, an ancient-looking square-shaped Benq screen with a handle on the back to help you carry it around. We still have the same set. I have no clue where our DVD player came from. We watched a movie about once every six months. In the last few years that number hasn’t changed much. Except for a dose of children’s movies with our girls and a few movies/shows with the teens in our youth group, we don’t spend much time in front of the TV.
That’s not to say, however, that we don’t have our own screentime battles. The smartphone is an ever-present enemy. For that struggle, I found the book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke to be of great help. I’d say my phone is the biggest timewasting threat in my house.
Now, lest you judge me as a backward, sheltered homeschooler, I’ll remind you the TV transformation happened in my 20s, after I was done homeschooling. And you know what I have found from my experience? I don’t miss the TV. I don’t miss it at all.
As a kid, I used to love getting to the hotel room on family vacations because they had so many more channels. More sports! More movies! More entertainment! But now, whenever we sit down to watch a movie, my wife and I usually come away more disastified than satisfied. There’s something that rings hollow about the world behind the screen when you spend almost all of your time in the real one. Truth is stranger than fiction, but we have lost the eyes to see it.
The narrative power of everything you watch shapes you. Every image lifts up or puts down characters, behaviors, and values, subtly suggesting you do the same. Books work the same way, but because they require more cognitive engagement, written words don’t bypass our mental filters as easily. Images flick instantly and effortlessly into our minds, shaping how we think, what we value, and, most importantly, who we love. We might be tempted to think we are strong enough, and we can handle it. But that’s what the addict says, too, then adds, “Just one more.” The radically shifting morals in our culture indicate just how devastating it is for us to consistently watch trash. All the while we condemn the very trash we are consuming.
I am reminded of Proverbs 4:23, which warns us,
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Or, as another translation puts it,
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
What we watch shapes our heart. So we should guard what we watch zealously.
Particularly in this Covid pandemic, the constant barrage of news is designed to ensnare us in a never-ending spiral of urgency and crisis. Not just local crisis, or national crisis, but international crisis, and crises we have no power to fix. Our hearts were not created to carry the weight of that load. They ought not carry that load. That’s a burden for the King of heaven and earth to bear.
Perhaps part of the reason we like to keep up on the news is a fear of missing out. I like to check a few select news outlets daily just to keep up. But the reality is, if something important happens, I can guarantee you will hear about it from someone you know. Or you could read in-depth about it, carefully forming an educated opinion. That’s how people used to find out news.
Plus, think of all the constructive things you could be doing with your life. You could catch up with an old friend, spend time with your kids, start a new hobby, knock off a few items on that honey do list, memorize Scripture, or spend more concetrated time praying about this insanity we call 2020.
Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying we ought to bury our heads in the sand. I am not saying everyone should be just like me and give up movies for six months. But if we were more selective about our daily media intake and more intentional about how we engage the vast array of information at our disposal, we would all live more happy and fruitful lives by the grace of God for the glory of God.
Technology is certainly useful, but all things have their limit. And once you get a taste of freedom from technology’s life-dominating stranglehold, you won’t want to go back.