Tag Archives: screens

What do YOU think? Is screen time damaging the kids?

I have been doing some thinking about technology again in prepration for the seminarians cohort meeting next Monday. We are inviting everyone to do some theology around the question: Should I buy the Playstation, Iphone, AI device for Christmas?

Image result for fortnite skins

Among the articles that stuck with me is one by Nellie Bowles in the NYTimes: A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley. I have grandchildren. She alarmed me, since they love their screens and I love to give them what they want.

Being avoidant is not enough

She says, “The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them. A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a region wide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K.”

Christians have often been resistant when it comes to technological advances. Many of the people in our church, Circle of Hope, come from Mennonite stock and have relatives or acquaintances who are Amish. The Amish are still trying to keep progress stalled at the pre-industrial level! I admire their stubbornness. But the cool  Anabaptists I know are tired of legalistic ancestors and feel queasy about making too many rules that will stifle their own children like they were stifled. So the debate about information and communication technology gets them coming and going. They have an instinct for avoiding the temptations for the world, but they have no little revulsion for overdoing avoidance.

Sometimes I think they use their resistance to overdoing avoidance to avoid making decisions that might save their kids. They don’t want to be legalistic, so they don’t do anything to guide the family. So their poor, impressionable kids are rolled over by the tsunami of technology without much guidance, much less theology. So the wave consumes their imaginations and they adapt to the worldview stories that justify every new relationship with a machine that comes on the market.

Tech inventors are keeping their kids away from screens

The experts from Silicon valley are beginning to resist the technology onslaught for the sake of their children. Just listen to these quotes.

  • “Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.”
  • Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video. Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: “Hashtag ‘products we didn’t buy.’”
  • Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”
  • Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company said about screens, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.” Technologists building these products and writers observing the tech revolution were naïve, he said. “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
  • Those who have exposed their children to screens try to talk them out of addiction by explaining how the tech works. John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla, said he tries to help his 13-year-old son understand that he is being manipulated by those who built the technology. “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.'”

I think we all know by now that online platforms, especially the games, are designed to be addictive. That’s how the inventors profit, by keeping us engaged and selling us virtual products. In case you didn’t know that, it’s no secret

I did not write this post to solve the problems we are all confronting. But I do think we Jesus-followers have the perennial solutions:.

  • A view of who we are and who God is appropriately contradicts the narratives the world offers.
  • Dialogue, like this, and like our meeting to do theology, helps break the power of manipulative lies that hook us into a track we later regret.
  • Questioning the strategies of our spiritual ancestors and having the courage to resist and restore in our own ways allows us the space to make decisions that have some discernment.

We do not need to bend the knee to whatever powerful force comes beaming into family life demanding we organize around it. Like many tech experts, we’d better figure out just what we are going to do about the invasion very soon, since the powers are grooming our kids for future profiteering and shaping their brains and their loves as they do it.

See also, from 2013: Screen time saps resistance

We mostly have opponents because they oppose us, not because we are bad.

A few years ago, some of us were reading Psalm 109 together during our noon prayer time.  It may not be on your top-ten psalms list, so give it a try.

When we read it, we had a groupthink moment and ALL got the wrong impression about what was going on. When we heard verses 6-19, we thought the psalmist was pronouncing a long curse on someone! We suspected something like that was in the Bible, and here it was! It was hard to take thirteen verses of curse! We are nice, of course, and we at least keep our curses short.

Sometimes the Psalms feel a little rough to us, since we’ve all been taught to keep our emotions subject to our theories and politics. What’s more, a lot of us just don’t trust anyone, so we never share what we really think or feel. So all that angry, vulnerable poetry in the Psalms jars our sensibilities a little. This one seemed VERY jarring:

“May his children become orphans

            and his wife a widow.” (v.9)

Who would say such a thing!! We were uncomfortable reading it. How did THIS prayer get in the Psalms?

Oh, it is SOMEONE ELSE talking

The prayer had started off in a way we could relate to more easily:

 “In return for my love, they accuse me,

            though my prayer is for them.

And they offer me evil in return for good

            and hatred in return for my love: (Psalm 109:4-5)

That we could pray. We’ve all been abused and misunderstood. I’m not very good at seeing it — but I am sometimes hated. I’m usually shocked when I find out about what someone feels about me or says about me, but sometimes I do find out that I have an opponent who doesn’t mind taking me out behind my back. In return for my love, they hate me.

We thought what came next was the Psalmist pronouncing a long curse on the people who returned hate for love:

“Appoint a wicked man over him,

            let an accuser stand at his right…

Let his days be few,

            may another man take his post….

May his offspring be cut off,

            in the next generation his name wiped out”

It was going on and on. One of us finally said, “Whew!” Because we usually think – “If it is in the Bible, then it is an example for us.” If the Psalms are a prayer book, this is a wild prayer! But we were more than a little hesitant to say the prayer.

We didn’t understand that vv. 6-19 is a quote of what someone else is saying about the psalmist, not what he is saying about them. The prayer is about being taken out, being hated, being attacked by an evil person. He ends up crying out for mercy:

“And You, O Lord, Master,

            act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,

                        for Your kindness is good. O save me!

For poor and needy am I,

            and my heart is pierced within me.”

My realization after using this Psalm and studying what it really says is this: I can get surprisingly out of touch with the forces that are coming against me! Evil and its allies want me destroyed. You may have the opposite problem and think I am kind of nutty, since you’re effectively paranoid all day — so have some mercy. I had such a resistance to pronouncing a curse that I didn’t see the curse coming at me — even in the safety of my own prayer book!

Poor, needy, opposed — admit it

In Celtic Daily Prayer it says “Our society teaches us to be suspicious of what is good, and to listen passively to whatever is evil.” We are even getting used to Trump’s daily lies! We may not even be aware that evil is coming at us! Look at how so many have sacrificed children to screen domination and allowed porn to provide a generation’s sex education. When evil does come at us, we may invite it in for a drink because we are committed to being nice, or at least committed to appearing nice — “Who am I to judge whether any screens or sexual practices are unhealthy?”

I want to love and trust first, but I don’t want to be nice to evil. Even worse, I don’t want to impassively stew in what’s wrong until it cooks me.

So I recommend some appropriate drama today. Let’s pray it together: “I am surrounded! I am needy! Save me!” 2018 could be 2017 doubled, Lord!

Let’s be appropriately concerned that we might be mean to someone. But for those of you who are like me, let’s be appropriately aware that we have opponents. We’re doing good things and they will be opposed — so opposed that our opponents might wear us down or throw us into defensive apathy. Lord knows that if we keep harping on mass incarceration there is a domestic army willing to defend itself! We are made good in Jesus and we, because of that good at work within us, are dangerous, as far as the Lord’s opponents are concerned. They just might try to take us out. We just might need a Savior!

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Screen-delivered consumerism saps resistance

emperors-new-clothesIt is a rare talent to be able to sell nothing. I have always admired the weavers in the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor’s New Clothes because they had the talent. Selling nothing might be the most-valued talent in U.S. society today. Our industries for manufacturing tangible goods may have all moved to Mexico or China, but we are still #1 in making things that don’t really exist. I know this for sure because I was just in Orlando. The Disney Corporation (#66 in the Forbes 500) must be the best at selling things that don’t and probably shouldn’t exist. If Disney decided to sell us new clothes that were invisible, we could get them with mouse ears and see them parading on their umteen TV channels; we would be invited to parade them ourselves in their five theme parks.

Our taste for nothingness is fed by the powers who seek to control us. The Bible is frank about this fact:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

We know that these powers are “nothings.” But, like the emperor, we have a taste for nothing. We tend to believe that if we eat enough of it, we will get something. The powers use that faith to lobotomize our resistance.

Screen time pacifies

We were in a bungalow at one of the resorts surrounding Disneyworld (and they mean “world!”). On our TV I think the first ten channels were Disney channels, the next seven belonged to their daughter company ESPN. Priorities. TV is one of the ways the corporatocracy eases us into compliance and herds us down their vision of main street USA.

Disney symbolism
Disney symbolism

There is not an agreement on how much media children are consuming, but the NIH and Nielsen seem to agree that young children watch up to 4 hours of TV a day. When you add on other screen time, they are spending 5-7 hours locked into the machine. My grandchildren just got turned on to old Donald Duck cartoons on the Disney bus from the airport; they are probably watching them on YouTube right now. Teenagers spend close to 45 hours a week in front of the screen. The fact that the content they consume is controlled by an elite group of corporations is horrifying enough. But the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent that teaches the next generation to comply. They don’t even think about whether to resist; they are zoned out on the screen. As evidence, note that private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards.

Screen time is a dream come true for an authoritarian society. For one thing, those with the most money own most of what people see. But more, fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; and TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities. Maybe most of all, regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, moving them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video game is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.

We need to keep an ear open to the call of the scripture, which demands that we not cave in to the relentless pressure of the world to conform to what is passing away, to its illusions of reality. When we resist,

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16).

The screens deliver the invisible goods.

The fundamentalist religion Marx named the “opium of the people” was long ago superseded by fundamentalist consumerism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. George Bush was famously accused of telling the country to “go shopping” after 9/11. Maybe he did not exactly say that, but he did tell us to go to Disneyworld: He said, “Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Getting back to normal means consuming and doing more of it.

A belief in consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulation, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulation, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form alternatives. Belief in consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult to ever get a taste for solidarity.

The TV delivers the messages that create the consumer society, along with, forWall-E instance, an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. It helps create the prisoners of tomorrow — the few who get out of line (after watching Wall-E, no doubt), who will be eagerly received by the prison-industrial complex. Can we stop the process represented by the Pennsylvania judges who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated?

My hope is that our message, and even more compelling, our demonstration of the message being lived out, will give the Holy Spirit many opportunities to expose how powers of the world are naked. There are seeds of resistance everywhere. They need to be watered. Without Jesus, many small acts of wisdom may do quite a bit to procure freedom and dignity. With their proper connection to eternity, they can offer transformation. Our mindset needs to match what Paul reveals:

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:1-7).

We are not slaves to the spiritual forces of the world. In Christ, we are children of God who should act accordingly. In Paul’s language, we are all as good as adopted sons in a Roman household, men or women, slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We should exercise our dignity.

My negative view of society was echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844 when he observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.” That was why he was a reformer. I hope to be more than that kind of realist. My hope is in the spiritual reality made incarnate in Jesus Christ. The fact that the powers that rule us are fallen and need redemption is a basic reason why I am a Jesus follower. The society, coming at us through all screens that have nothing more to promote than the economy, gives us Disney and its “magical” embrace, gives us Harry Potter escapism, gives our children these “entry drugs” for the vacuous Game of Thrones. But God has come in the Son, born under those very forces that seek to subjugate us, that we might receive our true selves in relationship with God and no longer be slaves, but the heirs of reality.

One final thanks to Bruce E. Levine published in alternet.org