Don’t Waste Your Life (Part 7): Entertainment and Social Media
I believe it is one of our strengths as reformed people that we pay a lot of time, attention and money to the Biblical instruction of our youth. After all, that is what we promised at the baptism of our children — hence John Calvin Schools and catechism instruction. We also expect our youth to faithfully attend the Youth Bible study societies, and that is a good expectation. School age children generally attend youth clubs run by parents under the auspices of the Adults Association, while the older youth gain a bit more independence by electing committees from their midst to organise the running of their meetings. Some consistories even have the practice of appointing two elders to liaise closely with these Youth Committees and attend meetings some three to four times per year. When they attend, they seek permission to check the attendance list and take particular note of youth whose attendance is irregular or scarce. Armed with this knowledge they can then make a point of catching up with the relevant young people and support and encourage them to make more effective use of this valuable means of grace and of exercising the communion of saints.
When I commenced attending the Men’s Bible Study Society soon after acquiring the required married status (or reaching the age of 25 years), it was still the practice that some 80% of men regularly attended these meetings. But now? What has changed? Do we set different standards for growing in Bible knowledge and for practicing the communion of saints for our youth then we do for ourselves? And what example do we set for our youth if we would rather relax in front of the screen or behind the screen then attend a Bible study meeting? No doubt many of us can find all sorts of excuses not to attend, but are they valid? Are we still willing to “take up our cross and follow Christ,” also in these matters?
John Piper provides some serious warnings about the negative influence of TV and the internet on the mind and lives of our society. Here is what he has to say (p. 120):
Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you’re watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel emotions shrivels.
Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death (1985, p. 18) explains why:
What is happening in America is that television is transforming all serious public business into junk … Television disdains exposition, which is serious, sequential, rational and complex. It offers instead a mode of discourse in which everything is accessible, simplistic, concrete, and above all, entertaining. As a result, America is the world’s first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death.
These comments are thought provoking — are they not? But since we are surrounded so pervasively by TV, are we still capable of clearly seeing what effect it has on us as well? David Wells (God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, Eerdmans, 1994, p. 88) provides chilling reading on how we have become almost incapable of handling any great truth reverently and deeply. He states:
It is one of the defining marks of Our Time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life. Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgement no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies. That is weightlessness. It is a condition we have assigned to him after having nudged him out to the periphery of our secularised life … Weightlessness tells us nothing about God but everything about ourselves, about our condition, about our psychological disposition to exclude God from our reality.
My wife and I have made a conscious decision not to have TV in our home. Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a TV set in our lounge and be able to sit back in my recliner and be entertained occasionally of an evening. But quite frankly, I’m dead scared of the effects that I know it will have on me and my family. I know that the temptation to relax in front of the screen after a difficult and tiring day would become irresistible and I would gradually find this preferable to doing prep study and attending Bible study meetings. I would find it more and more difficult to ensure I complete my daily meditations, read upbuilding literature, listen to my wife and children’s accounts of their day, go to bed on time — and there’s certainly no way I would be writing these articles which challenge and stimulate and encourage me as much as I hope they do you as reader. And so I am continually grateful that God has enabled us to withstand the temptation to purchase a TV set. I believe that TV ranks up there with the most effective weapons in Satan’s armoury – sufficient to qualify for Christ’s serious warning in Matt. 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
And then there’s the growing phenomenon of Facebook and its equivalents. This must surely have overtaken TV and the Internet as the greatest time and life waster for our younger and possibly not so young folk. Warnings abound from secular authorities of the dangers that this medium of communication poses to young people and the very real threat it is to their personal safety as well as to the art of social communication and interaction. Allow me to share with you a wry joke about Facebook that I picked up from the Dutch website of “Een in Waarheid” (One in Truth). Freely translated, it goes like this:
Peter and Phoebe were sitting together on a bench in the sunshine.
“I think it’s dumb that you don’t join in with Facebook”, said Phoebe.
“Why is that?” is his response.
“Well, then you can make lots of friends who will follow whatever you do”, explains Phoebe.
Peter looks at her triumphantly: “But I make them as well, you know. Every day I go out into the street and tell everyone I see there that I have slept well, what I have eaten, how I feel at that moment, what I have done and what I am doing at the moment and what I am going to do. And then I listen to their reaction, and then I say again: I think that’s cute.”
“But,” wonders Phoebe, “Do you really get many followers that way?”
“I sure do”, exclaims Peter enthusiastically, “I already have three: 2 policemen and 1 psychiatrist.”
A quick Google search of “Facebook dangers” brought up a whole host of websites with statistics and examples that leave little doubt of the perilous minefield of risks that Facebook poses to the unwary user. I chose one that was at least Australian so that the information wasn’t too slanted towards USA users, although I doubt that it makes much difference. It was: http://hubpages.com/technology/the-real-dangers-of-facebook-facebook-addiction
Here are some excerpts from this site:
Facebook is addictive! All around us we see them. They walk with their "smart" phones in the hand and at the slightest sound from the phone they bow their heads eagerly in reverence to see what is happening — the rest of the world around them, forgotten. They are also to be found in the office, in front of their computers, countless windows and tabs open in the background while they are busy "doing work". Every now and then a little message pops up and everything gets dropped (that important assignment, closing that deal, or — writing this article), because now they will need to think of a clever, witty or cute answer and it must be typed out quickly!
A few reasons why Facebook is so popular. Nearly all of the clever people would agree that the most important thing about Facebook is its seemingly effortless ability to make us feel important and connected. It does add to our self-worth, doesn't it? The Facebook profile has become the perfect way to inform the world about who you are, your interests and thoughts. The user is allowed, in fact — encouraged, to constantly talk about him- or herself, without being branded as narcissistic. Every single message, post or reaction that you receive makes you feel important, valued and a little famous.
Facebook has also made it possible to make contact with, and keep in contact with people. For those who are simply too busy, or too shy, to keep contact with old friends can do it easily now on Facebook. Or, you can even meet new people on Facebook, something which takes a lot of time and effort to do outside the virtual world.
The most important reason why Facebook is so addictive: The illusion that Facebook destroys loneliness with the click of a button. This is especially true now with Facebook available on every mobile device. You can take your "friends" with you, anywhere you go, and they will always be a push of the button away.
At the secular Senior High School where I teach there have been visits by police officers and school psychologists with chilling warnings and examples of exploitation, bullying and even suicides caused through an inappropriate use of Facebook. I would like to think that such examples could not possibly occur in Reformed circles — but I wonder.
It may be possible to make responsible and effective use of Facebook and I certainly am not an expert on this subject. However, from the perspective of using one’s time and life responsibly in the service of God I believe I am not exaggerating to claim that this and other similar social media are a very real threat to the purpose for our existence on earth as co-workers of God and the covenant relationship we have with our Heavenly Father. Talking with one of our children about this made me aware that I have only scratched the surface of this subject and that a more in-depth analysis would be helpful and instructive to many of us who are wondering how to deal with this pervasive and potentially destructive influence in society. Perhaps a separate topic — another time.