Yesterday I looked briefly at entertainment addiction and attempted to propose a definition of entertainment. I said that entertainment is an escape or distraction from normal life. Perhaps I should have added that it is an “enjoyable” escape or distraction. While this is an imperfect definition, I think it is useful, at the least. We seek entertainment to take our minds off the stresses and strains and reality of life.
Today I want to offer a couple of ideas that may help you see the impact entertainment has on our lives.
I think we need to first qualify our entertainment. We need to figure out what constitutes entertainment and this may well vary from person to person. A lot of what we may think is news or information or otherwise beneficial information may really be entertainment thinly disguised. Do you check Drudge Report eight or ten times every day looking to see the newest headlines? If so, I suspect you are being entertained more than you are being informed. That little bit of information you get from glancing at the headlines and skimming through the stories should probably be filed as entertainment. The same is true of much of the evening news or the blogs you read. Are these things really integral to your life and faith? Or are they really just a form of entertainment? In Amusing Ourselves to Death Neil Postman asked when the last time was that you read a news headline and were compelled to take action. He realized that the vast majority of the news that comes to us is news which demands no action; instead, it is mere information that entertains us but without edifying or challenging us. Even news is often entertainment.
So my encouragement here is to take a look at your day and especially the time you spend in front of screens to determine how much of it is genuinely useful, genuinely applicable to life and how much of it is really a form of entertainment. Which of the shows you watch are entertainment and which are genuinely useful? Which of the web sites you read are entertainment and which actually impact your life? Which of the books you read are amusing and which are edifying? Just pause briefly to think about it.
Once you have qualified what you do to entertain yourself, try to quantify it. Here you simply attach a number to your entertainment–a number of hours or minutes every day in which you enjoy entertainment. I suspect that, almost invariably, you will be surprised at how large that number is.
As of 2008, the average person between the ages of 18 and 24 spent 8.5 hours every day in front of some kind of a screen–whether computer, cell phone, television, or any other. Mom and dad (aged 45 – 54) fared better (or is it worse?), clocking in at 9.5 hours. These are incredible statistics that give a sense of how digital technologies are reshaping our world. Consider that in 1940 the average would have been 0 hours per day. In just 70 years we have radically reshaped our lives.
How much of this screen time is entertainment-related? In most cases I suspect that it would be the vast majority. Almost 5 hours of the 8.5 for that 18 to 24 year-old are spent watching television (with mom and dad tallying over 6). Can any of that be deemed something other than entertainment? Not likely. How much of the computer time is related to work or school and how much is chatting or browsing or looking at pornography? And even when we seek to be productive on our computers, how often do we switch quickly to email or Digg or Facebook, even if just for a moment or two at a time? How much of the time spent texting and chatting on the cell phone is for entertainment purposes? And even when we do sit back on the couch with a good book, do we keep the television on, just within our peripheral vision?
Even when we look exclusively at screen time we find that people must spend several hours a day being entertained. And this does not include all the other means of entertainment available to us. So quantify your entertainment. For just a day or two track what you do and define appropriate categories. Keep an eye out for how often you switch from work to entertainment, school to entertainment, even if for only two or three minutes each time. I suspect you will find that you are demanding hours of entertainment every day.
What To Do?
Before we continue, I wish to emphasize once again that entertainment is not inherently evil. In fact, I am sure that God created us so we desire and pursue times of entertainment. However, I do think we live at a time when we pursue entertainment with reckless abandon and when we demand it in unprecedented quantities. And for this reason it does us good to think about it, to qualify it, to quantify it.
Now we return to the question that triggered these articles. Somebody wrote to John Piper and asked “I believe I do love Jesus, but most of the time I’d rather spend time being entertained than spend time in God’s word. How do I break this hold that entertainment has on my heart?”
Here is Piper’s reply:
1. Recognizing it is a huge step in the right direction.
2. Seek the Lord earnestly about it. Pray like crazy that God would open your eyes to see wondrous things out of his law.
3. Immerse yourself in the Bible, even when you don’t feel like it, pleading with God to open your eyes to see what’s really there.
4. Get in a group where you talk about serious things.
5. Begin to share your faith. One of the reasons we are not as moved by our own faith as we are is because we almost never talk about it to any unbeliever. It starts to feel like a kind of hothouse thing, and then it starts to have a feeling of unreality about it. And then the powers of entertainment have more sway in our life.
What I have sought to do yesterday and today is give some guidance, some context, to this first step. I want to help you recognize if and where entertainment has dominated your time. If you quantify your entertainment and find that you are spending four or five hours a day being entertained, you may will identify with this person’s honest statement: “most of the time I’d rather spend time being entertained than spend time in God’s word.”
At this point I’d encourage you to pursue Piper’s remedy. I know there is much more that could be said at this point but his suggestions are, at the very least, a great place to start. Pray like crazy, immerse yourself in Scripture even (and especially) when you do not want to, talk with others about serious things and share the gospel. Let God’s Word shape and mold you, showing you what really matters.