“Media” is a massive category of stuff. It encapsulates social media, a significant portion of our lives, and mass media such as television, radio, print, and the web versions of each. It extends into entertainment and the arts as well as news and journalism. It is so prevalent in our lives that we often over look it, just the kind of thing we live with but are rarely curious about.
Curiosity about media should be those questions which lead us to greater discernment. Media content is so pervasive, so all-encompassing that we easily become desensitized to its power and poison. I don’t mean that all of it is poisonous. I mean that there is simply so much of it that without active, discerning curiosity we cannot determine what is poison and what is true. We lose God’s truth in the detritus and we fail to protect against the lies.
If curiosity is driven by questions, what kinds of questions should be asking about media? Maybe a better place to start is to consider whether we ever ask any questions at all. Many of us have become passive recipients of media, cisterns collecting whatever flows our way. We just sit and let it wash over and into us. Such a position is the easiest to take but also the most mindless and the least God-honoring. Curiosity is active. It seeks truth. So what kinds of questions should we ask?
Do we even consider how media shapes us? This requires a fair bit of self-awareness, the ability to step outside our present experience and examine the impact of our consumption and interaction. We need to look at the time we spend on social media or consuming other forms of media (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, news, YouTube, podcasts, etc.). We need to audit what we are exposed to – violence, sex, negativity, criticism, cynicism, beauty, art, meaningful stories, hope, positivity. Each of these is an ingredient of our state of mind and feeds our heart in some way, either nutrition or poison. Our lives are more shaped by media than we realize, and we should bring curiosity to bear on it.
As we consider how media shapes us we will realize that every engagement with it withdraws something from us. It withdraws minutes or hours. It withdraws mental energy. It withdraws emotions and feelings. It withdraws attention. It withdraws opportunities to do something else with our time and energy. Just like with money, sometimes withdrawals are necessary and good. Sometimes, though, we withdraw too much too often and find ourselves in the red. Like a bank these withdrawals can lead to overdraft fees too – just more subtle ones. We find ourselves tired, stressed, without time, and pulled away from more important pursuits.
Just as media makes withdrawals from us it leaves a deposit in their place. It deposits outlooks, feelings, facts, opinions, encouragement, insult, negativity, hope – something. Often we are so caught up in the medium that we miss the message; we don’t realize the effect it is having on us. We neither appreciate its benefits nor do we recognize its dangers. So we must ask what we are gaining from our media consumption. The answer does much to determine its value for us.
I don’t mean this to sound like a “beware the evils of the idiot box” soapbox sermon. Media, in all its forms offers incredible benefits. It is a remarkable information source for everything from current events to history to, well, just about anything. It inspires; think of the way certain films or documentaries or news stories make you feel, stories of activists or bravery or generosity. Media can wow us and make us happy; it can be pure entertainment. Media can absolutely be a net positive in our life. All I am asking that we be careful what it is adding to our lives.
Every media outlet has a slant. Every person has presuppositions. This means that every bit of media you consume is coming from a perspective and aiming at something. Do you know what it is? Do you know that you can trust it? FOX News calls itself “fair and balanced” and they are exactly right for everyone who falls into their target demographic. MSNBC is equally fair and balanced to the opposing target demographic. News media exists in a world with competing goals: report the news and drive ratings. The latter often influences or even overrules the former. This means not all news is trustworthy. Are you curious enough to dig a little deeper, find another side to the story, and learn all you can about a news story? Are you aware of the slant so you can know the inherent holes in reporting and story telling?
Almost nothing shared on social media as news should be trusted. I get most of my news through social media, but I accept almost none of it at first blush, and neither should you. Look for other outlets reporting the same thing. Spend ninety seconds on Google. Verify the facts as well as you can. Try to learn the rest of the story, and I assure you there almost always is a rest of the story. Simply apply a little discerning curiosity to see what is true and what is not and always keep in mind that “true” means factual but also “in line with what reality ought to be.”
You don’t need to be able to define or articulate worldviews to answer this question. You simply need to have a level to gauge them with. You need to know what is and isn’t biblical, what is and isn’t honoring to Jesus. You need to have a radar that will go off when something is not quite right. And when the level is off or the radar pings you need to ask why. What is out of whack? What doesn’t add up? If you seek out answers to those questions you will gain both a better understanding of worldviews and truth. Trust that twinge of an uncomfortable feeling telling you something is not quite right then go looking for what it might be. If you actively do this your radar will become more sensitive and accurate, but if you suppress those feelings, that twinge, you will end up with no radar whatsoever.
Does what I have consumed help me love God more by showing me truths or perspectives I had not otherwise seen? Does it reveal something of humanity to me to help me be compassionate or caring? Does it move me in some way? Did it connect me with other people or show me truth? Did it lift my spirits and point me on a good trajectory? Did it correct an assumption or wrong belief I held? While not everything we consume will answer each of these questions positively, they should be our aim.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life, that will be released in March of 2017.
If you would like to explore further and take a short (FREE) evaluation of your own curiosity visit CuriousChristianBook.com.