Television was an active character in my life until I went to college. I could count on it to be “working” on making me comfortable every night when I came home from school. A typical night for me in middle school and high school involved spending at least two hours with the television in the living room. Then, in 11th grade, another TV moved into my bedroom, and it and I quickly became a pair. We were stuck like glue to each other almost every night until I graduated and moved out. My stress melted away in its presence, and I formed much of my lifestyle based on what it told me, like a soothing parent. But looking back, I can clearly see the profound impression it left on the way I lived then live today. And I am not fond of its parenting style.
Television programs, movies and video games led me to waste most of my childhood. This happened in several ways. First, I became addicted to video games and television shows. Every day I would daydream about the fantasy lands into which they invited me. Several times. It was as if I was beginning to live in their worlds while reality slowly became fiction.
Second, I learned to dislike activities that didn’t depend on watching a screen. As a child, my mom would urge me to play outside and I became increasingly reluctant to follow her suggestions. There was no instant gratification for my senses and–ironically–I was forced to use my senses in order to enjoy spending time outside the house. This exercise for my senses became a challenge for me because video games allowed my senses to atrophy, so to speak. Also, when my friends invited me to spend time with them, I would often decline their offers if they didn’t involve a television of some form (this includes handheld devices with screens, like smartphones and portable video game consoles). They would often spend an afternoon swimming and running around at the private park in our neighborhood while I would be isolated in my bedroom, soaking in the incandescent light and only moving my thumbs and eyeballs. (Now my sports of choice are running and swimming, respectively. How sad that I didn’t practice these earlier when I had numerous opportunities.)
Third, I spend more time around less people. I estimate that at least three out of four video games that my brother and I owned (before he and I sold many of them) were single-player-only. When we played these games (on which we logged over 150 hours each, which is upwards of six full days), we played them alone. I might be more comfortable around large groups of people today if I had spent time in such situations rather than spending so much time staring at a screen by myself.
Fourth, when I have watched movies with other people, I’ve noticed that we–the people in the group–are almost always less conversational than when the screen is absent. We speak with each other more with no TV. And when I think about how I have gotten to know my friends better, conversations usually play an important role. With this in mind, intentionally avoiding speaking with my friends in order to watch characters I honestly don’t care about seems a bit foolish.
Fifth, the content of TV programs, movies and video games are rarely beneficial to a person’s life–at least, this has been a theme in the shows and games I choose. In very few cases, from my experience, is a person’s life improved after watching a movie or playing a video game. Indeed, what usually happens to me is the reverse: my thoughts are infected by long spells of daydreaming about the movies and TV shows I recently watched. Contrast this with time I spend reflecting on Scripture, books I read and how I can improve my daily life–and also time I spend praying–and I see television as harmful to my thoughts.
Sixth, TV shows and movies require time to watch and video games require time to play. Copious amounts of time. A plethora of hours (now I have that scene from The Three Amigos playing in my head*). Even though this point is obvious, it can also be powerful: this eats time, and time cannot be regained. A schedule void of television would likely be more fruitful, regardless of whether that time is used for work, play, rest or in some other way.
Having made this case, I refuse to demonize television. People can and will continue to use it, for good or ill. Furthermore, by God’s power, I believe we (meaning everyone) should continue to love ourselves and other people regardless of how we use our time. After all, isn’t this a picture of how Christ loves all people?
My challenge to you is to use the time you spend in front of digital screens strategically. When you do watch a movie, catch up on your favorite TV series, cheer for your home team, or play a video game, think about why you are using your time this way. Is it based on selfishness or godliness? If you are alone, is the TV benefiting you in some way? If you are with a group of people, are you using the TV to effectively deepen your relationship with the other people? What are you watching on the TV, and is it making your whole life more rich, more vibrant, more… full of life? I firmly believe that TV can be redeemed for beneficial use in many ways, so I do not suggest we all hastily throw it out the window. After all, windows are expensive to replace, and glass shards are dangerous. So be intentional with your time.
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*To ensure you that I do indeed watch television and do like sharing funny moments with other people, you can watch that movie clip here.