A Steady Diet of Distraction

“From movie channels to cable TV to the Internet, society offers us myriad ways to artificially reinvigorate the mind. And when I am really tired, they are hard to resist. After all, what could be wrong with a little entertainment after a long day’s work?

What’s wrong is that a steady diet of over-stimulating or fantasy-inducing distraction eventually reshapes our perception of the world and prevents us from dealing with reality. Twenty-five years ago, long before cable channels or stirring websites existed, Neil Postman wrote an analysis of the way that television was reshaping our view of the world. The problem, he said, was not so much that TV was entertaining. Life is hard, and everyone needs a momentary lift on occasion. The problem was that TV had come to dominate the culture, which meant that almost all our experiences were now coming to us as entertainment rather than in the form of serious intellectual, moral, or spiritual questions.

When we watch TV, all we have to do is make a simple, childish choice: is this interesting or boring? If it fails to pass the test, we just flip the channel and move on. It’s not surprising that even newscasters have succumbed to the entertainment trend: unless they over-stimulate us or lead us into the escapist fantasies we’ve come to expect, why would we watch them?

Jesus, however, links genuine freedom to our ability to recognize truth. ‘If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:31-32). Free from what? Misperception, melodrama, falsehood, artificiality, superficiality, and self-indulgent egoism—everything the entertainment industry depends on to hold our attention.”

— Paula Huston in Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit