At the risk of destroying this blog before we really get off the ground, I want to address one of the major problems that our culture faces today, namely our addiction to the e-universe (which, ironically, you are engaged in as you read this, and I as I write). In my generation, digital media is our undiagnosed addiction. In fact, most of my friends from high school have hardly ever finished reading a real book but they are on Facebook and YouTube for hours a day (kudos to those of you who are indeed reading right now!). Many of my friends get their news from Comedy Central and would rather watch Family Guy than read a book. Their social interactions and planning take place through Facebook, MySpace and the like. On the positive side, I would actually be hard pressed to keep up with most of my friends anymore except for the glorious invention that is Facebook. With the increasing invasion of digital media into our world, though, comes an increase in the amount of information that we can spoon-feed ourselves with the least amount of brain usage possible.
When I think about my generation, I think about the movie Wall-E (perhaps evidence of my own media addictions?). In this movie, the world is on the brink of collapse and the remaining citizens of Earth cruise around on a giant space-resort where they hover around on floating chairs and are fed like babies. These people become obese and lazy, filled full of the things they all thought they wanted, but they are unfulfilled. When things on the ship begin to go awry, the people are forced to vacate their floating butt-warmers, stand up and walk again, but their muscles have atrophied and it takes them time to get their feet under them. Looking like newborn fawns, they stumble around the ship with their legs quivering. This is actually how I feel when I am separated from my media devices such as my television, MacBook, IPhone etc. I feel paralyzed when my e-mail is not within reach and it is only getting worse with the invention of more wonderfully amazing devices that seemingly make our lives simpler (thank you Apple). With each new mind blowing, life altering device, it becomes harder to do the things that once seemed so natural, like disconnecting from the e-universe and living in real time!
This problem is particularly significant when you consider that many Churches have adopted a hyper-media driven format in order to draw in seekers from my generation. While I consider myself a technology junkie, there are few sacred spaces anymore where I can escape for a reprieve from the multimedia disease that makes sitting in silence torture and reading simple books a chore. The reality is, the media-sloth in me would rather watch a good YouTube video than read a book any day! Why? My brain has become atrophied by the culture in which I live.
As universities like my own roll out great online, multimedia rich programs and churches invent brilliant ways to employ media technology, I fear that many of us have gotten mentally lazy and forgotten the value of the simple things. Examples of simple things include the joys of sitting on the porch in silence with a glass of iced tea appreciating the sounds of nature, the simple pleasure and satisfaction of finishing a good book that you want to read over again, or the forgotten art of a face to face conversation. I long for the day that we get tired of our new e-this’s and I-that’s. I hunger for the day when we reacquire the satisfaction of silence, the amusement of museums and art, and the long lost yearning for the next good book. And, if I never see another video announcement at church, I promise not to revolt (nor, dare I say, will my generation). Now I am not supposing that all of my generation is addicted to media the way that I and many of my friends are, nor am I supposing that it is only my generation that is addicted, but enough of us are for me to know that we find ourselves in an epidemic; so what is the cure?
I am not sure what the full cure is for this, but in my own life, I have been taking small but intentional steps to make some changes. First, after I started seminary, I forced myself to read books besides the ones required for my classes, books that interested me with their content and enriched my life. This was a sincere struggle at first, and to be honest it still is, but I have fought through it and my brain is starting to rewire itself slowly. I now really enjoy reading, the problem is actually finishing a book. Because of my short attention span, due to the immediate satisfaction that comes after an hour of watching House or a half hour of The Office, I find it hard to stay captivated by books for long. For the past couple of years, however, I have been forcing myself to keep reading, and things are getting better. Second, I determined to set aside a couple of hours a week of silence. This has been the hardest one to do, since nothing around me in my world is quiet anymore, but I strive after silence anyway, even when it is elusive. Third, I have set some rules for myself, for example, I try not to read work related e-mails when I get home at the end of the day, a rule I routinely break, but I never said I had won the war. Overcoming media addiction is about intentionally setting small goals and winning the battles one by one. I don’t want to get rid of media, I just want my mind back! I want to rebuild my mental muscles. Television, ITunes, YouTube and Facebook are all wonderful tools if used sparingly, but if unbridled they become enemies of the mind, perpetuating lazy habits and they make us weak and unprepared for the mental strain that comes when God wants to take us deeper.
This is my challenge for those of you reading this post right now and thinking, “wow, that sounds like me.” Turn off the computer, go to a silent place, maybe the front porch, a park bench or take a bubble bath and read that book you have been telling yourself for weeks that you would finish. Take small steps and win the battles one by one, because losing this war means losing our minds! For those of you who are leaders of media rich organizations, perhaps church leaders or university heads: don’t throw out the media, but teach your people the value of silence again. Challenge us to turn off the television and internet, train us in the art of reading and savoring the moments with God where we can enjoy him in silence, and help us to learn how to have real, meaningful relationships again. After all, we are told in scripture that God speaks to us, not in the wind, nor in the sound of an earthquake or the radiance of the fire (all things that distract us), but God is found in the “sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:11-12). Let us take back our minds and regain the appreciation of silence, the richness of a good book and the power of genuine, face to face relationships! After all, the e-universe is just a counterfeit of the glorious real universe that God created for us to enjoy.