Yesterday, computerworld.com ran an article speculating about Facebook’s new venture into the world of reality:
“Now this is a big deal,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “It’s potentially a revolutionary extension of the Facebook user interface and experience. Think about what you could possibly do with this … A celebrity could give you a tour of their home and it would seem like you’re with them — right next to them.”
It is no exaggeration to say that our culture’s quest for entertainment has reached unprecedented levels of sophistication. Although it was written nearly 30 years ago, Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death accurately describes our time as it contrasts Huxley’s Brave New World with Orwell’s 1984. Postman writes, “Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. . . . As Huxley remarked in ‘Brave New World Revisited,’ the civil libertarian and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’”
Huxley’s world has been realized in a way that neither Orwell, Huxley, nor Postman could have foreseen: the decibels of distraction pulsating from the internet, social media, and smartphones make distractions of past generations seem like a gentle whisper. Obsession with virtual reality video games has been a corollary of the extended adolescence of American young men.
Even news networks produce stories that are barely distinguishable from entertainment, and the entertainment industry itself constantly cranks out movies that both magnetize people and influence culture. All this distraction serves as a defense against one thing our culture greatly abhors: boredom.
Yet, as Ralph Winter notes, “boredom has been called a disease of our time and a metaphor for the postmodern condition. Paradoxically, in an age in which we are surrounded by ever more sophisticated forms of entertainment, there is an increase in boredom.” Ecclesiastes is perhaps the only book in the Bible that directly deals with the malady of boredom and with its flimsy defense, distraction. The volume of distraction, instead of drowning out boredom and despair, actually amplifies it (Ecclesiastes 7:2) because it demonstrates more compellingly than ever that no amount of distraction can make us forget about our mortality, and thus of our need for God. In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal powerfully diagnosed this malady:
“Take away their distractions and you will see them wither from boredom. Then they feel their hollowness without understanding it, because it is indeed depressing to be in a state of unbearable sadness as soon as you are reduced to contemplating yourself, and without distraction from doing so.”
Echoing the writer of Ecclesiastes, Pascal teaches Christians to identify our culture’s ceaseless craze for entertainment for what it truly is: whistling in the darkness of our mortality. “The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is distraction, yet that is the greatest of our wretchednesses. Because that is what mainly prevents us from thinking about ourselves and leads us imperceptibly to damnation. Without it we should be bored, and boredom would force us to search for a firmer way out, but distraction entertains us and leads us imperceptibly to death.”
As a kind of recreation, entertainment has a legitimate role in reminding us of the goodness and creativity of God. But it is not an end in itself. May we never let it distract us from gazing on the God who gives it.
Neil Postman and Andrew Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Revised edition (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2005), ixx–xx.
Kay S. Hymowitz, “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2011, sec. Life and Style, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704409004576146321725889448.
Campbell-Jack, McGrath, and Evans, New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, 119.