Tune it out or turn it down

Using media wisely in a pandemic

In a recent post about my bout with COIVD 19, I talked about how tuning out the news, and the media generally, helped me rest. Not that I had any choice. But there may be some value for all of us in turning out or turning down the volume. The media, after all, really needs us to click on something or watch something a little longer. That’s how they make money.

At a time like this one wonders how much news we need. I’m not saying we should hide our head the in the sand. But we can keep track of our communities and countries and causes without succumbing to sensationalism or drowning in drivel or spreading new conspiracy theories.

It’s easy to get lost in the swirl of it all, but perhaps we are missing the few positive possibilities of this crisis, such as talking to the people we are stuck at home with. Or calling an old friend to see how they are doing. Talking a walk on a spring evening. Or even reading a book. Prayer and reflection are important ways to deepen our faith and especially important in times like this. Unfortunately, we can spend less time doing it when we have more time for it.

And restraint goes for other media consumption as well, not just the news. Binge-watching (watching 3 or more episodes of the same series in a row) is up. Even before the pandemic, Americans were spending an average just shy of 12 hours each day with media platforms, and experts, based on measured behavior after hurricanes and other events that kept people at home, predict an increase of as much as 60% during the current crisis. And for a longer period of time. 18 hours a day? Really?

But it’s happening. Good meaning parents who intended to spend more time with their kids have surrendered them to video games and flickering images. Homeschooling turns out to be hard work (who knew?). Stressed parents watch more movies, not less. Seniors are watching the news for hours, hoping for something good to happen.

You may not be able to imagine that you are spending 12 hours a day tuned in or online but when you start to add up the time you spend watching Netflix and add it to the time you spend watching TV news and add more Facebook than normal, it could be a dangerous amount. This is not a call to avoid all social media or all entertainment; we’re depending on these connections in new ways, some of them valuable. But this is a time for more boundaries, not less. This is a time for board games and reading to each other. This is a time to pay more attention to each other. This is the time to decide what’s important and what’s not.

Of course much of the content of the media we consume has little value, so here are some suggestions for managing media in a pandemic:

  • Pick one reliable source of news and limit your time with it. 20 or 30 minutes a day. Trust me, it just recycles.
  • Make sure your kids (or grandkids) see you practicing discernment in your own media use. If this is your favorite way to escape and relax, it will become theirs. Limit yourself, even if you have no kids at home. One or two episodes of a show a day. We’re probably still going to have time for you to get through all 16 seasons of NCIS before the end of this.
  • Set some boundaries. And keep them. “We’re going to watch a family movie together on Friday.” “No screens after dinner.” I’m not saying what boundaries you should set, just that you should set some. Talk about them as a family.
  • Find out something your kids (as individuals) would like to learn how to do or do better (besides advanced levels in a video game). Invest time and energy in these activities. Help them set and reach new goals. Cook together. Build a model. Get down on the floor and build something with Legos. Find a book about an interest of theirs. A little self-improvement is a good idea for you too. How can you stretch yourself, learn or improve a skill, read something that has been on your list for a long time?
  • Have regular times as a household to read Scripture or an age-appropriate devotional.

Frankly, the real temptation at a time like this is that we avoid the hard work of strengthening relationships, including the one we have with the Lord. How do we redeem the time? Ephesians 5:15-17 puts it this way:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Our media use allows us to walk “not as unwise but as wise.” And yes, we can get drunk on wine, but our addictions are many and likely include screens of various sizes.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Sometimes the will of the Lord involve an off switch.

3 thoughts on “Tune it out or turn it down”

  1. There is a lot of garbage online, but there are a number of things that are important. Hearing Trump avoid responsibility-important. Seeing a list of healthcare providers who have died during this pandemic-important. Hearing people that I would generally never hear from grapple for understanding and commiseration online-important. Feeling the angst of my fellow humans-very important. Seeing a fellow physician who was loading up a van and was arrested for essentially being black-still incredibly important. Reading about the horrors that have happened in India with their authoritarian lock down-/sigh/so important to note and commemorate. It’s almost harder to strengthen relationships with those who are near, but with the lack of human proximity, I have been made ever more aware of the issues that affect those who are separate and different from me. It is not a time to avoid being diligent. It is not a time to hide from the painful truths that exist for those who are not like me. Cook your pancakes. Hug your kids. See who is being harmed by the current situation and do not pretend that this could not be you or that their suffering is not just as relevant.

    1. Thanks Deborah. I didn’t mean to suggest we should look away as much as we should monitor what we look at. And at least look at the people we live or work with, which you are clearly doing.

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