“Why can’t we ever do anything fun?” my seven-year-old son asked the other day.
This is a common enough question from children. It struck me as odd this particular time, because the phrase was uttered the day after the child in question went on a trip to the zoo in the morning and afternoon, and then went to a minor-league baseball game in the evening. That’s right—the zoo and a baseball game on the same day. Yet, he never does “anything fun.”
It is possible that my children never do anything that is fun for them. After all, I can’t read their minds and determine when they’re having fun. Still, if they’re not having fun, then I have to wonder why, whenever I tell them it’s time to leave anywhere, they always say “Can’t we stay five more minutes?!” If it’s not fun, why do they want to stay?
I don’t know if they are doing anything fun, but I know that they are doing a lot. On a recent Sunday, my children went to a family baptism after which they played with their friends and cousins for several hours, then two of the older children attended a ballet recital, and then we all went swimming. This was on a Sunday—a day of rest! I hope someone rested that day, because I know that we did not.
My children—and probably yours too—are always on the go. They have practices to go to and games to play in. They have dance lessons or art lessons or music lessons or some other lessons. They should have lessons in how to fit in all those lessons.
When they and their parents are constantly running around to games and practices and lessons, it can be rather expensive. There is the upfront cost of the lesson/sports league. Then there is the cost of gas to ferry the children from one thing to another. Then you have to include the cost of fast food, since there is no time left to make dinner at home. Studies have found that 96% of school-age children can identify Ronald McDonald. That statistic makes you wonder what the other 4% are thinking about.
Okay, it’s easy to tell where this article is going, so let’s get it out there: we do too much, we ought to cut back, we ought to relax a little and spend our time and money on things that are more useful, and if we did less we might better enjoy the fewer things we do.
There is the rejoinder that life has always been hectic and that the “good old days” were never that good. People do tend to think that however things are now, life was better 20 or 30 years ago. The Andy Griffith Show once ran an episode in which Andy and Aunt Bea pined away for the good old days when life was slower and people had time to listen to a band concert at the town square on a Sunday night. And that was in the 1960’s, before cable television and computers.
Despite the nostalgia argument, children growing up today really do face many more distractions than their parents who grew up in the 1970’s. I can remember a time when the only thing on television was the three major networks. In the mornings, the networks ran children’s shows, but those shows ended at noon, when the stations ran their midday news. After that, until sometime after 3:00 pm, it was solid soap operas. Since there were no cable stations, no videos, and no computers to speak of, there was pretty much no electronic distraction to interest a young person for those hours. About the only thing one could do during those hours was either play an actual game or do schoolwork.
For today’s children, there is no time when there is “nothing on.” Instead of cable television with perhaps thirty channels, modern cable or satellite television delivers hundreds of channels. You don’t even have to wait for something good to come on. Cable and satellites now have on-demand programming so you can watch what you want when you want. If you can’t find anything on TV you want to watch, most homes have hundreds of DVD’s and video tapes to watch. And if you still have nothing to do, there is always the Internet.
I am of two minds about the Internet. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I think the Internet is the most wonderful invention in human history. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I think the Internet is the biggest waste of time in human history. On Sunday I check my email.
Actually, the Internet is both one of the most useful tools ever conceived by human intelligence and the biggest waste of time on planet earth. There can be no doubt about the benefits of the Internet. You can find just about any information there is anytime you want it. You can shop online, you can do your taxes online, you can keep in touch with friends and relatives without long-distance bills. It’s really an amazing tool.
But the Internet has a huge downside. Leaving aside the obvious problem of the impurity available, the Internet is a massive time-waster. For starters, there is information overload. You have so much information on so many topics that it is very difficult to differentiate between good information and bad information. When you go to a library and check out a book, someone first took the time to research the book. Then they submitted the book to a publisher, who thought it worthwhile enough to print. Then editors, and perhaps fact-checkers, went over the book for accuracy and grammar. Then someone at the library thought the book useful enough to buy it and put it on the shelf.
Compare that to information on the Internet: someone had access to a keyboard and they typed something. No one is really responsible for fact-checking and ensuring accuracy. You may find a good source on any topic, but you can’t be sure.
Then there are blogs, mailing lists, and just email. Blog, for those who do not know (God bless you!), is short for weblog. A weblog is basically someone’s thoughts on any topic that comes up, like an online diary. Blogs can be interesting and even influential. Blogs are like daily newspaper columns, so one might say that they are no more wasteful of time than reading the paper. But the paper—like the library book—is something that someone edited and decided was worth spending money to print. That doesn’t really compare to reading the unedited and unchecked ramblings of bloggers.
Mailing lists are groups of people who get together and email each other on whatever topic is of interest, sometimes family life or home schooling. At their best, these lists can be a kind of support group, and people on the list can develop enduring friendships. That’s the good part. The bad part is the hours every day it takes to read and reply to the emails on the list. Some of these lists can have thirty, forty, fifty emails a day to read through. That takes time; and, if you reply to any of these emails, that takes more time.
My personal online time-waster is reading sites such as Slate and then posting replies to articles. I tend to post replies that I consider to be defenses of the Faith, and that’s how I internally justify the expense of time. But honestly, it’s a waste of time to post replies on Slate or any of the other online magazines. Who is going to bother to read a reply? Not many people, and even if they do, why should they listen to anything I say? They don’t know me, they don’t respect my opinion, so why should they care? Answer: they don’t care. So why am I wasting an hour writing and rewriting a masterful reply with just the right turn of phrase? It’s like spending an hour putting the perfect garnish on your pot-bellied pig’s evening meal. No matter what garnish you use and how prettily you arrange it, the pig doesn’t care.
Perhaps the most justifiable use of the Internet is keeping up with friends and family by email. But even this can become too much. If you email fifteen or twenty friends once a day, how long does that take? Of course, email is almost instantaneous, so you might email people two or three or more times a day. How much time does it take to send out thirty or forty emails per day? Keeping up with friends and family is good, but is it necessary to email them every day? We don’t phone each of our friends and family members every day. Why send email so often?
Ginny Seuffert often sings the praises of removing clutter from our houses. I agree with that, but perhaps we also need to think about removing clutter from our minds. So much of the television, videos, computer games, and the Internet is simply so much mental muddle.
Historically, peace and quiet have been regarded as necessary to commune with God. When Elijah stood on the mountain to meet God, there was a great wind, but God was not in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but God was not in the fire. When God came, he came as a whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)
It is safe to say that we will rarely hear the voice of God in the Internet. We will rarely hear God in the television. We will rarely hear God in the video game. But if we turn all these things off and wait for God in silence, perhaps we will hear His whisper. “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalms 27:14)