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The Great Time-Stealer (Luke Stamps)

In his book Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots, Rod Dreher quotes Read Mercer Schuchardt, currently an associate professor of Communication at Wheaton College, on the dangers of media consumption:

The number one advice I give to my students is to be a culture creator, not a culture consumer…You have to have time to create, and to create, you have to get rid of those things that steal your time. TV is the great time-stealer in American life.

It is important to note that Schuchardt, a former student of the heralded media critic Neil Postman, is not simply criticizing the content of television.  He isn’t simply saying that TV is bad for us because it is lewd, profane, and banal (though often it is).  He is saying that the medium itself is inhibitive of the kind of sustained reflection which is necessary in order to create culture.  Schuchardt claims that “morality today is very point-and-click; life is completely about image and surface texture now.”

The line about “pointing and clicking” makes me wonder if the internet hasn’t surpassed television as the nation’s great time-stealer.  A recent study has shown that the average American worker spends 60-80% of his at-work internet time “cyberloafing,” that is, engaged in internet activity totally unrelated to his work.  If the camera angle cuts and commercial breaks of television have bracketed our attention span into minutes and seconds, then surely the seemingly infinite number of hyperlinks on the internet have reduced it to milliseconds.  Television has slain its thousands of productive moments, and the internet its tens of thousands.

Allowing for a bit of overstatement, I wonder if Dreher’s conclusions about television aren’t even more true of the web: “The television medium by its very nature is a force against tradition, against continuity, against permanence and stability.”  I wouldn’t argue for a complete retreat from these media…but…why not? I wonder if we start with the wrong assumptions about the burden of proof in this debate. Perhaps the better question to ask is not, “How can I prudently turn these media to my benefit, since they are obviously an integral part of our contemporary society?” but rather “How can I help to slow the tide of cultural dissolution by devoting more of my time to media that foster creativity and community, such as reading books and having, you know, actual face-to-face conversations with other human beings?”

I realize that this jeremiad against technology is hardly novel and that it can be overstated and that I have left myself wide open to the charge of hypocrisy, since I am posting this on a blog and publishing it to social media.  But don’t you feel this temptation to cyberloaf in your own life?  Don’t you feel that your own intellectual stamina is severely limited by the sheer range of information you take in on any given day (politics, sports, philosophy, religion, movies, music, art, controversy, gossip, status updates, etc. etc.).  Don’t you feel that your attention span is spread too thin, “like butter scraped over too much bread”?

I know I do.  So what are you doing reading this blog? And what am I doing writing it? Let’s get back to work.

Luke Stamps is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University (OPS). He is also a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in systematic theology. Luke is writing his dissertation in the field of Christology. Luke is married to Josie, and they have three children, Jack, Claire, and Henry. Luke is a weekly contributor to the Credo blog.

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