Have you ever found yourself beginning to become enraged as you wait for the little hourglass on your computer to go away? I have to admit that I have little to no patience when my computer can’t keep up with me. (In saying this, I mean that my computer is really pathetic and not that I compute at blazing speeds.) I sort of expect my computer to perform one task after another without any delay or down time.
In a lot of ways, this is how we are treated by our culture. To understand what I’m talking about, just turn on the evening news. You will hear about all kinds of horrible and amazing things that occurred during your workday. I have just one question for you: When is the last time that you really felt anything when you watched the news? I’m not talking about your emotions during the program, although those are arguably fleeting as you attempt to keep up with the quick succession of news stories. I mean, when is the last time that you thought about a story the next day, let alone the next week? How about another question: When is the last time that a news story led you to action? Just think about it. Regardless of whether the subject of the story is religion, politics, or a horrific murder. Even what we hear at church on Sunday may fall into this category. When is the last time that you said after church, ‘Wow. I can’t get up tomorrow without seeing that displayed in my life.” Instead, I think to myself, ‘I never knew that. What a great fact to file away in my brain’s religious folder.’
Sometimes I feel like I don’t have time to really reflect on what I am hearing. I hear about so many things on a daily basis, I can’t possibly take time out for each one. Especially when so much of what I hear doesn’t really impact my life. It is as though I am listening to a story to make sure that I don’t have to remember it. Wait, who was in the car crash? Who was just killed? These are horrible events, and yet I don’t think about their implications if they do not involve someone I know.
Without hesitation I would argue that I am not the only person who feels this way. I just finished reading Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, which was actually written in 1985. That being said, I found this book really insightful and in some ways prophetic. This book spends a lot of time reflecting on how television has shaped the way we think about all subjects: religion, politics, sports, love, and violence. Thankfully, this is not another book about censoring the content of TV, but an honest look at how TV affects how we learn (By that I mean taking in concepts, making conclusions about them, and applying them to our lives). The following quote really illustrates why I have difficulty reflecting on what I see on the news:
“Now… This” is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to see or hear, or possibly anything one is ever likely to hear or see. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no ball score so tantalizing, no political blunder so costly that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now… This.” The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately forty-five seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for ninety seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial. In fact, it is quite obvious that TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any implications, for that would require viewers to think about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending to the next story that waits panting in the wings.
Combine this with how overwhelmed we are with information that really doesn’t affect our daily lives, and who would have time to really be impacted by anything?
I really enjoyed the book, even though I may not agree with everything he said it has actually made me think a lot. (I typed up some quotes to keep handy, and I ended up with 5 pages…) Because I long to reflect and understand a little more what is actually occurring in the world, I long to have a different type of news show. That is not going to happen, so I begin to wonder how I should react. Again, Postman accurately avoids the pitfall of just blindly condemning TV, but offers the following:
The problem, in any case, does not reside in WHAT people watch. The problem is THAT people watch. The solution must be found in HOW we watch.
This book has helped me focus on HOW I watch TV. Taking note of how the way the news stories are presented to me affects how I view the good and the horrible things that occurred today. Trying to remember those things that impacted me during the news, so that I may reflect on them later during the day. I need to be ok that I have to give the world and our culture a big hourglass while I figure out what just happened.