Dumbed Down by Technology
By Kevin Probst
My family never had a television in our home until I was six years old. When we finally got a TV our lives changed. I was only allowed to watch TV for one hour a night but that rule soon evaporated as my brothers and I greatly pressured our parents for more TV time. The consequence was less family oriented entertainment in the home. We developed an affection for the television and it somehow became like a family member. We talked less as a family. I never knew how hard my Dad’s life was as he worked two or three jobs to try to make ends meet. My mother could have shared so much more of her medical knowledge she acquired as a nurse working daily in the operating room. I had no idea what was going on in the lives of my two older brothers and as the youngest I could have benefited so much from information that was never communicated to me.
The internet has joined the television as a partner in the crime of destroying family relationships. It’s difficult to disciple our children because we are not living in relational context. Entertainment is becoming less and less family oriented. Kids have their own television sets in their bedrooms. We put televisions in family vans and kids listen to their i-pods so they can have a total ‘me centered” experience. They don’t know what is going on around them and they fail to build meaningful family relationships. A father who awakens to the fact that he hardly knows his son may have to take a hammer to the i-pod in order to correct the problem.
We now have relationships with newscasters, radio personalities and T.V. stars. People who watched Friends thought they had more friends they people who did not watch friends. We call these famous celebrities by their first name as if they are best friends to us. We accumulate a thousand friends on face book and we feel good about ourselves because we have so many friends. We live in a surreal world with pseudo friendships and when on occasion we are forced to face true reality we are shocked and confused.
Most high school students don’t know there father and if they do they have no relationship with him. I teach in a Christian high school where most of our students have fathers but many have no idea what their father does at his job. Families don’t sit down and eat and converse together anymore. Instead, each family member takes their supper tray to their own television or their own computer. We don’t talk to the neighbor over the fence anymore. We don’t sit on the front porch together anymore. We live in a world of selfish isolation. We wonder why others don’t talk to us and interact with us. We don’t realize how our own isolation has made us unapproachable.
We will pay $200 dollars an hour for a counselor to try to help us with our broken relationships. We do better for awhile but we finally return to our own technological addictions. We don’t communicate with our children anymore and when they ‘act out’ to try to get our attention we medicate them and turn them into little zombies and they passively return to their video games and their i-pods and we’re happy because they are finally leaving us alone so we can pursue our own selfish interest.
It didn’t start with television or even radio. It probably started with Gutenburg’s printing press. You’ve probably known a book-worm who fails to interact with people because they prefer to live in a fantasy world provided by the book. I used to have a friend who would occasionally make a seven or eight hour trip cross country to see relatives. He said it was the loneliest drive. His wife would read a book the whole way hardly saying a word to him.
The internet teaches us, just like television, to have a short attention span. As a teacher, I have to change gears every twelve minutes because the attention spans of my students are conditioned by the thousands and thousands of hours they’ve watched television. They watch for twelve minutes and then watch an advertisement. I teach for twelve minutes and then tell a joke or move on to another activity as I adapt to their mindsets. We now rush from website to website in just seconds. The newer generation lives on sound bites here and there. They have a very difficult time participating in creative or critical thinking. There is very little originality anymore. The music and poetic artists in our culture aren’t producing much creative, original material. How many songs do you hear that are remakes? It’s as if we can’t think for ourselves anymore so we have to reach back and grab material from the past.
Many of my students have difficulty stringing sentences together. Writing a succession of sentences to form a paragraph is challenging for them. Actually linking a number of paragraphs together to build on a theme is almost impossible for many of them. I don’t want to tell you how many in a class of thirty sophomores have never read an entire book! Even our country’s most powerful political leaders must lean heavily on technology (teleprompters) to assist them in communicating in a rational and thoughtful way. Compare the speeches of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams with our modern politicians and you will discover that speeches given two hundred years ago are far more complex than the stunningly inferior teleprompter speeches of modern times.
We don’t write thoughtful letters anymore. The average email is six sentences of four or five words each. We are communicating much more but the communication is very shallow. We text and we twitter and we hardly get beyond three and four letter words. We love to LOL and we TGIF. Is this really communication or are we like cavemen just grunting at each other. Are our abbreviated conversations promoting shallow minds?
Governor Palin is making a lot of political hay off of tweets. There is no possible way to develop any sort of in depth political idea on Twitter. You can only send out sound bites and bumper sticker type statements. This may very well make a politician seem shallow when in reality they may not be.
We need to recover those deep relationships with family and friends. But, these relationships are built on language and communication skills. It feels like our modern day ‘bumper sticker’ communication is more destruction than constructive. It feels like the modern technology is producing shallow minds and shallow hearts and these in turn produce superficial relationships. Shakespeare would weep.
Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.