180909Odds and Ends

Are we amusing ourselves to death?

Sitting in the waiting room at the chiropractor’s office, I resisted the urge to mindlessly scroll through apps on my phone. I often think about Neil Postman’s thirty-year-old observation that modern Americans are amusing ourselves to death. He was right, and we’ve taken leaps and bounds since then to further validate his conclusions.

We’re missing out on life because we’re too busy documenting every moment with pictures and social media posts. We hardly meditate because we reach for our handheld device with its endless stream of entertainment at the first sign of boredom. We may know more about the ongoings of Washington D.C. or high school acquaintances than members of our family thanks to news apps and Facebook. I’m not passing judgment on anyone any more than I do myself.

Sitting in that waiting room, I noticed I was alone in my determination to ignore my phone. Every other person’s head was down, eyes fixed on a glowing screen, with the exception of one. A young boy sat on the floor re-enacting Jurassic Park with some dinosaur toys. I, too, loved dinosaurs as a kid and now enjoyed watching his imagination in action. The boy moved a tyrannosaurus in pursuit a triceratops. He even simulated the roars and moans of those ancient animals.

The scene transported me back to one Christmas in the Eighties when “Santa” brought me an entire set of dinosaur figurines. Christmas was on a Sunday that year. I remember my parents rushing us to unwrap our presents because we needed to leave for church. I also remember thinking about those dinosaurs all morning, hoping the preacher would keep his sermon brief so I could return home and play with them as soon as possible.

Then, there was the dispute between me and my dad. The box in which my new toys were packaged claimed dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. My dad argued, “That’s not true. The world is only six-thousand-years old.”

“But that’s not what the box says,” I naively replied.

“Who are you going to believe: me or the box?”

“The box,” I said. It’s not that I refused to trust my dad, but the printing on the box seemed so official. How could it be wrong?

The boy in the waiting room added a firefighter to the scene still unfolding. The tiny man ran, screaming, as he did his best to flee a velociraptor. Velociraptors were once my favorite dinosaurs. I liked how they hunted in packs, using their small size and agility to outmaneuver their prey. I suppose I have Michael Crichton to thank for that. He authored the first full-length novel I actually enjoyed reading from beginning to end.

In the sixth grade—or was it the fifth?—my teacher gave the class an assignment which excited me. She told us to write a fictional tale of 500 words. I wrote about a group of kids trapped in the past when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Well over 500 words, my story was long enough to divide into chapters. Writer’s block never became a problem. I wrote and wrote, thrilled by each and every turn of events I was creating.

I remember the teacher asking me why I had written so much more than she required. “The story wasn’t finished,” I answered. She seemed to disapprove, though I was never certain, but I was proud of my story nonetheless. I wish I still had a copy.

Evidently, my chiropractor had overbooked himself that afternoon, leaving me to wait longer than normal. I didn’t mind, though. Reflecting on that Christmas morning with my new dinosaurs was fun. It also gave me time to think about the age of planet earth, the Christian worldview versus the theories of our secular scientific community, and the events which led me to become an avid reader and writer. I didn’t need Timehop or old photos to remind me. All I needed was a kid on the floor playing with toys while I kept my smartphone out of sight and out of mind.

By the time a receptionist called my name, I had traveled sans flux capacitor through several decades. I had relived a handful of priceless moments seemingly forgotten. I had also considered a few biblical issues along the way. I even gave some thought to my future, wondering whether God has called me to write as an integral of part of my ministry. If so, am I fulfilling that aspect of my calling?

Had I removed the iPhone from my pocket, I probably would have deleted a few marketing emails, checked to see whether my website was still up and running, and perhaps played a round of Really Bad Chess, the only game I have on my phone. I would have laid on the chiropractor’s table thinking about how I might outmaneuver my opponent despite having fewer pieces of value. Instead, I contemplated how thankful I am for my parents, how I might best serve God’s people as an author, and, of course, dinosaurs.

Distractions abound even without technology. I say avoid them whenever possible. As Paul Washer insightfully remarked, “Over the epitaph of this generation it will say ENTERTAINED TO DEATH.” For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world via his television, computer, and smartphone and forfeit his soul? (Mk 8:36).

Then again, maybe I’ve grown far too curmudgeonly and critical in my thirties, fast approaching my forties. Maybe. Maybe not.

If you want to consider the matter further, I recommend reading Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. Order it from Amazon or Westminster Bookstore.