57 Channels and Nothing On
So, our kids are educated at home. The reasons aren’t germane to this post, so I’m not going to delve into them just now. (I’m sure it will come up later, though.) I bring it up because it’ll help you understand why we are, at times, interacting with the kind of people you think about when you hear the word ‘homeschool.’ My wife makes a point of attending at least one homeschool conference or seminar every year, as she is always seeking to improve her already formidable education skills. If my schedule is free, and I don’t have to watch the kids, I’ll try to go with her.
A few years back we went to a seminar presented by a particularly extreme “homeschooler” family. (From what I’ve gathered on the Interwebs, that’s the technical term. See reference video here.) What makes them extreme? All the women in the family aren’t allowed to wear pants, or skirts shorter than ankle-length. They believe the King James Version of the Bible is the only correct translation, and that hymns are the only acceptable type of music by which you can worship God. Their dad referred to television as “the beast” and encouraged us all to cast it out of our homes.
There’s more, but I don’t want to belabor the point. I’m not going to tell them they can’t live their lives and raise their children the way they want to, and I’d hope they’d afford me the same courtesy. My wife happens to look way too good in jeans to adopt their strict dress code. I believe the Bible is still the inspired Word of God, even if you are reading a translation without “Thee,” “Thou,” and “Thine” in it (I find most of the debate over which translation is best to be insipid). I like rock and roll, and the television isn’t . . .
Well, maybe he’s got a point about the TV.
Our TV didn’t so much get “cast out” as fade into obscurity. As part of our efforts to get out of debt, we returned the DVR to the cable company and turned off their TV service. Shortly after that, the TV started having trouble with turning on and staying on. Eventually, it wouldn’t turn on at all. We didn’t have any money available to repair or replace it at the time, so it’s just sat idle. As it died, we got out of the habit of watching it just to watch it. Once it was gone, we didn’t really miss it.
It’s amazing how much quieter our home is now. The moments once filled with flickering images are now filled with getting projects done (like writing a blog), and we all spend more time reading. We still have Internet access, and occasionally watch a show or two on the computer, but it’s an intentional act. I can’t mindlessly flip through channels anymore.
I’m not saying that television is a “beast” or exaggerating it’s power over people, and I’m not saying that you need to get rid of it. I am saying you might want to reevaluate your relationship with it.
Television programming is, without exception, primarily an emotionally-based entertainment medium. It doesn’t matter what you’re watching, either. Educational, sports, documentary, and news programs all succeed or fail based on how well they satisfy you as you watch them. If the producers and directors have done their jobs, things like information, academic lessons, and moral messages will all take a back seat to the entertainment value of a program, if they’ve been considered at all.
Video images are powerful things. I’ve spent over a decade working with A/V in churches and at conferences, and if there is one axiom that you learn it’s this: In a competition between the speaker and the screen, the screen always wins. Never play a complex moving image behind a speaker if you want the audience to listen to them consciously. The mind emotionally responds to the video more easily than it rationally responds to the spoken word.
What does this mean? Well, it means you need to understand why you’re watching. If you’re trying to learn something new much beyond a surface level, video probably isn’t the best way to accomplish that. If you’re trying to be better informed by watching news programming, you should remember that their first goal is to get you to keep watching, not inform you. If you’re watching because you want to be entertained and if you get a little something extra to think about, bonus, then congratulations.
My only gentle suggestion is to try to watch intentionally. If you find yourself regularly plopping down in a random search for mindless entertainment, you should consider going for a walk, or reading a book, or calling up some friends to hang out. Best to play it safe. Who knows when “the beast” might get you.
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