My grandson, Dylan, is five. He has a wonderful personality, a great sense of humor, and is charming, delightful, and sharp. All character traits that run in our family, of course!! And he loves my iPad. His parents don’t own one, so when we get together, he finds it quite a treat to watch children’s programs on it, from Spiderman to Lego construction. At this point, I’ve managed to arrange my schedule to meet with him oneon- one weekly for a couple hours, when we spend time playing Wii or doing science experiments, and engaging our latest hero from the Skylanders Trap Team and then viewing the iPad together while we munch on our chicken nuggets from Mickey-D’s. Early on when we began our iPad venture together, I told him that, when we were done with lunch, we’d have to stop watching the iPad and do something else. We were to have other fun together. When that time came, I told him to turn the iPad off. He didn’t want to, and began to complain: “I want to watch some more. Why can’t I? Just one more. No, I don’t want to.” I told him we’d be doing nothing else until we practiced how he was going to behave when Grampy told him we had to stop. I asked him, “What did you do that was wrong?” “I didn’t listen,” he said. I replied, “That’s right. And what are you supposed to do when I say we have to turn the iPad off and do something else?” He said, “Say, ‘OK, Grampy,’ and then turn it off.” “That’s right. Or, you could try making a deal, like, ‘Grampy, could we watch one more and then stop?’ Making a deal with me would be okay, as long as you listen if I say ‘No’ to the deal. Now we’re going to practice six times.” And we did.
He does get into it…and we actually have fun with it. After a few times practicing, unless the infraction is very serious—in which case there is no horsing around—we will both become like actors on a stage and goof around. Sometimes I’ll reverse roles, and I’ll be him and he’ll be me. In this way, the training is fun while still having its effect. In fact, when I get into being him and outrageously exaggerate his pleading, he gets a big charge out it…and I enjoy imitating him. And he enjoys the power of being Grampy! The next week, when I told him it was time for us to turn the iPad off and do something else together, he began to react, making a face and uttering some guttural sound… but he stopped as quickly as he started. He then turned the iPad off. I said, “Good job, Dylan!” He said, “Yeah, I caught myself and turned the iPad off.” So we high-fived each other.
The iPad. Some people think that the social media technology we have in this 21st century will be our undoing. Social media is drawing us away from face-to-face encounters. Our “conversations” are becoming condensed, even telegraphic. Adults as well as children are “talking” in briefer sentences to one another through those media, and face-to-face soul-baring conversations are becoming more a rarity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 75% of teens own cell phones. Most text. And one-third of those who text do so a hundred times a day. That’s quite a large number of teens with a lot of training in telegraphic communication. According to that same study, 67% of those teens that text report that their parents have no rules for the use of their phone. And a study out of the University of Winnipeg found that teens who text over a hundred times daily were 30% less likely to believe that their personal morality was of any importance in life.
Facebook, whose stated mission is to connect everyone on the planet with everyone on the planet, has substituted for the old time porch or stoop where neighbors gathered to talk their way through an evening. As homes and their surrounding yards have become larger, and front porches and stoops moved to the back to become patios and decks, casually connecting with neighbors and friends became difficult. Facebook has filled that gap. We now have cyber-neighborhoods.
One marketing consultant I talked with recently noted that the millennials are packing ninety-six hours into a twenty-four hour day. They do six social media things at a time, he said. Social psychologists have noted how children are being trained in attention deficit and hyperactivity by the amount of information “per unit time” that is being thrown at them on television and various social media. Our own adult attention span is getting shorter, so chapters in books need to be briefer and written more simply to make it an “easy read.” Before I published my book Faith of a Father, another marketing consultant advised that, while my book was strongly endorsed and well written, that it may be too long for John Q. Public these days. I took the proverbial deep breath, and with some angst (I don’t like going contrary to informed advice), decided to hold to my own original judgment—and let the book stand as I had written it. I decided to trust the reader to have the diligence to read it through to the end if the reader trusted me to have written it well enough to be useful—and interesting—to the end.
But, we’ll see. Marketing experts also tell us that we watch very brief YouTube videos rather than delve into lengthy discussions with breadth and depth of either information or complexity of viewpoints.
I have had clients answer non-emergency calls while in consultation with me. And some will talk for a minute before hanging up! “Hey, George, I’m at my psychologist appointment right now. No, I’m in the middle of the session. What do you want? Yeah, sure, that’s fine…go ahead as planned…”
I’ve counseled many spouses who feel they are losing their loved ones to the internet evening after evening. Their spouses’ time and energy are being invested in cyberspace relationships rather than being poured into their marital relationships; their hi-tech “front porches” and cyber-neighborhoods typically don’t include their spouses. And many spouses are reinvesting their energy in old flames only to find themselves nurturing a divided heart where first loves—and the novelty they bring—elicit more intrigue than their married loves and the familiar burdens they bring.
In my honest opinion, technology is not the problem. After all, information is power. And information operationalized is technology. Information—and the technology that comes with it—leverages reality. Nothing wrong with that. Just like there’s nothing wrong with soap and cars. The key is, what are we using these things for? Do we wash our bodies with soap or a child’s mouth out for talking back? Do we transport ourselves via automobile or do we drive drunk and race down Main Street USA only to end up killing a child? Do we use Facebook to escape the tough challenges of growing in a marriage where intergenerational patterns of sin are playing out, or do we use it wisely to connect with others we love in order to update, support, and affirm? Do we carry our smartphones for emergencies and easy access to oodles of information? Or do we use the phone at restaurants with loved ones to avoid the tough challenge of learning the skills to keep interesting conversations going from moment to moment and person to person? Do we teach our children about life’s bigger—and better—game, or, like twothirds of parents of teens with phones, allow them to get lost in the world of telegraphic communication without training? Do I use my iPad to babysit my grandson or to richly encounter this most precious child? Do I train him by neglect to lose himself in cyberspace or do I train him to use the iPad as a tool for limited entertainment and rich engagement of his grandfather?
The technological opportunities and the challenges they bring will only increase. Facebook’s mission will someday be achieved. Everyone will connect with everyone. So to whom do we finally talk? Whom do we embrace as our close neighbors? As our core community? With the dawn of photography, we have movies. We now have three-dimensional movies. Someday, we will have holographic entertainment— entertainment that includes all five senses and all three dimensions. We will be able to experience most of life as a virtual real-time five-sensory reality…without all the potentially damaging reality consequences. It’s like internet pornography now: affairs of the imagination without the diseases or the formal betrayal of a spouse. Right now we only have two-dimensional pornography on the internet. But five sensory pornography through our home theatres is coming someday.
Still, I submit that our problem is not photography or holographic entertainment or social media. The problem is us.
We’ve had our problem since the dawn of the race. With Paradise lost, we not only suffer and die, but we’re born sinners. Like it or not, self-aware or not, we all blind ourselves to truth and allow ourselves to remain ignorant—even lazy in scratching and clawing for wisdom, like those parents who offer no training for their teens in using social media. So we’ve become, by degrees, proverbial fools, using our own technology unwisely with progressively more damaging consequences to our children’s psyches, their character, and the mission of family. The fact is, rarely do families have a clearly articulated mission that they doggedly pursue like Facebook has for its capitalistic venture. Instead, in counseling, I typically hear, “I just want my family to be happy.” That’s the panorama.
But here’s another.
In the Old Testament, Israel was given the Sabbath day to rest. They were to remind themselves that there was once a Paradise, after whose creation God rested. Also, the Hebrew people were to rest from the daily struggle for survival. Such Sabbath rest looked to the future, envisioning a time when they would become solidified as a nation and enter into national rest…a collective peace. A peace emerging from entering a promised land flowing with milk and honey, where the struggles of life would be abated. Finally, Sabbath was a day to remind themselves that they were “holy”—not morally perfect, but a people called out by God to go into that promised land. All of that was Sabbath.
Then Jesus came.
Jesus took the nationalistic vision of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament and applied it to all people who believed in him. Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free…they all belonged to Jesus. They were his new nation, his royal priesthood, his called out people…now called church. Not church as institution, but as vibrant community.
And Jesus brought peace, not as the world gives peace, but as Israel envisioned it: peace by entering that land of milk and honey. But Jesus’ promised land of “milk and honey” was the land of the permanently alive. Paradise lost became Jesus’ promised land of resurrection: All these people (in the Old Testament) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth…Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Heb. 11:13, 16, 39-40; parentheses mine) The Old Testament Sabbath as a day of rest was a “shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:17) Resurrection life is now our true Sabbath. Jesus was our down payment on that rest. When Jesus brings the universe back to the Father, and we rise from death, then we will have our full and final rest from life’s nonsense. (1 Cor. 15:24) In the meantime, the practice of Sabbath is not primarily about stopping activities for a day, but in how we “rest” ourselves now, in Christ, from day to day, in light of the resurrection. As the author of Hebrews states, still talking about our “rest” through Jesus, “…we are to run the race set before us, throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Heb. 12: 1-2a)
Even on vacation!
To really make vacation Sabbath, we need a family mission statement that is as clearly articulated as Facebook’s mission is for the world. How about something like: “All family members are to run the race to be more like Jesus Christ.” Or, “We are to live so as to transform one another from one degree of glory to another into the character of Jesus Christ.” Or more simply “Make love our aim.” To operationalize that mission (in part), how about having family members, including the children, talk through: How do we want to use social media on our vacation? And for private discussion between the parents: Do we first need to retrain ourselves as parents…and then our children?
I am grateful that my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren join my wife and me for a week in the Poconos of Pennsylvania every year for vacation. We are all intentionally committed to “make love our aim.” While not having sat down as a group and discussed this as a family mission, we all have it as our purpose. Actually, we have all explicitly affirmed that mission statement in various contexts. We have noted to one another that that’s what we are about, and why we love to get together. And, fortunately, we adults sing off the same page about training the children. The children are presented with a united front, and learn the same lessons from all of us. At dinner, we all talk—from lighter to more substantive conversations. We invest in one another through fun—from games to flying quadcopters to going to the beach to playing baseball, pool and ping pong.
However, we all need what my wife and daughter call “introvert time.” We read. Or go on our smartphones or iPads to privately engage the cyber world. Or take walks. Nothing wrong with that. It is self-respecting to pull in to reenergize. But we are all mindful of the family mission to invest in one another…as well as to resolve conflicts and reconcile when needed. That, at times, has been challenging. Still, as best as I can tell, we don’t use social media to retreat from dealing with one another. Nor do we overuse this technology in a way that robs others of the investment of our time, effort, and energy. I am pleased that our family dance has become what it now is. But you can tell: we’ve all worked at growing up in our ability to love one another. Given that hard work, none of us really want social media or anything else to “hinder” or “entangle” us. We’ve done pretty well at it so far. Grateful I can say so.
Perhaps you are as pleased with your family vacation dance as we are. If so, then together we are privileged to have such moments of Sabbath “rest” where love reigns, offering us a little taste of the milk and honey that yet awaits us in the land of the permanently alive. If, however, your family does not share such a vision of Sabbath rest; if your family members retreat into cyberspace too much; if children pitch hissyfits when you call them to disengage the virtual world in order to re-engage the real world of family, then you may want to consider calling a family meeting. Looking each 136 July 2015 member in the eyes, you may want to ask: “What race are we running?” Facebook knows. Does your family know?