If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t written anything for CAPC in a few weeks. The reason for my absence is that my wife and I just moved from our cozy (read: crammed) studio apartment in Southern California to a spacious town home in Waco, Texas so that we could pursue our doctorates at Baylor. Now that we actually have the room to organize our belongings (in CA just about everything had to be in the “living room/bedroom” or in storage) and since we both are going to have less time to indulge in the distraction of pop culture, I’ve started thinking about ways to avoid pop culture.
While it might sound contradictory to write about not interacting with popular culture on Christ and Pop Culture, sometimes the best way we can think biblically about popular culture is to turn it off. Cultivating a rich inter-life, having meaningful time in the word and in prayer, enjoying quiet meals with family and friends, and processing and reflecting on the media you do watch, are all extremely important activities to a mature and thoughtful Christian life and require us to remove ourselves from the media stream. With that in mind, here are five practical ways you can cut down your media intake by rearrange your home.
- Create a space for reading and reflection. For Christians, reading must be central to our lives. We believe that the One, living God spoke to us through a Book, and that we can learn about Him and our relationship to Him through reading. Since this is true, the act of reading ought to be viewed by us as nearly sacred, as an act that involves forethought and preparation. We should recognize that the context of our reading will often affect the way we read. Personally, if I read in bed I typically fall asleep in 5-15 minutes. Also, reading within view of my computer inevitably leads me to abandon whatever I’m reading in favor of clicking around the Internet. In our new apartment I’ve designated a corner of a room for reading. I have a chair, three bookshelves, a light, and a stand in this reading corner. My computer monitor is completely out of view and the chair is not so comfortable that I am likely to fall asleep. By effectively isolating myself from all forms of media, my reading and writing can be more focused and thoughtful, producing more meaningful reading in less time.
- Don’t leave your computer on or move it to a low-traffic room. Before we moved my computer was on all the time and easily accessible. I found myself checking my email, CAPC, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites several times an hour simply because I could. In the middle of making dinner I would run out to the living room to click refresh on a few pages. As long as it was easy and convenient to waste time on the Internet, I would. The new location for my computer is in an upstairs room, making those quick-clicks during dinner completely impractical. Since my wife and I spend most of our time downstairs, I only get a few chances a day to surf the Internet. While I spend far less time on the Internet now, I’m finding that I get just as much “work” done. The only thing I’m “missing” by spending less time online is the pointless refreshes. It frightens me to think of the hours I’ve wasted refreshing sites only to find the page unchanged.
- Watch TV programing online. Now, I don’t say this to condemn television or TV programing, but the fact is that there are very few good shows on cable (percentage-wise at least) and in order to view them you need to spend $35+ a month and sit through hundreds to thousands of commercials crafted to make you a materialistic consumer (a characteristic that should never be identified with believers). Many of the good shows can be seen online, legally, through sites like Hulu (with very limited ads) and with a Netflix account you can watch ad free. The cost of cable, the negative influence of advertising, and the availability of quality programs online have prevented my wife and I from setting up cable (even though “basic cable” comes free with our apartment). But probably the aspect of cable that concerns me the most is the time drain. When I watched TV growing up I was a chronic channel surfer. I couldn’t help coming home and watching TV, even if there was absolutely nothing on worth watching. TV was there, and that was enough. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who has cable or satalite TV wastes their time watching nothing in particular; however, I would encourage you to honestly reflect on how you use your TV time.
- Design a comfortable dining room and use it. Let’s face it, we like to take the path of least resistance. If it is easier to eat in the living room in front of the TV, then we will. If it is easier to eat in a dining room, then we will. Once we recognize the importance of eating with others without media distractions our goal should be to make eating in front of the TV difficult and eating at the dinner table easy. Try keeping your table clean. Often a dinner table can become a workspace or filing cabinet. A table that is cleaned and cleared is easier to use. The longer you are in the habit of viewing the dinner table as the place to eat, the easier it will become to make the choice between sharing dinner with your wife while having a sustained, meaningful conversation, and mindlessly watching the tube. I’m not suggesting that you never eat from front of the TV, but that those times should be exceptions.
- Buy large or eye-catching clocks and keep track of time. Maybe the best way to get sucked into a videogame, surfing the Internet, or watching TV is to “lose track of time.” If you find yourself going to bed late a night frustrated because that last round of Halo turned into five last rounds, then you need to be more aware of the time. If you need to, buy some clocks that you can place next to your computer or TV. Sure, your computer has a clock, but it’s a lot easier to ignore than a big, red, digital clock. Make it a habit to check the time before you sit down to play a game or surf the web. Knowing when you started to be entertained will give you a better perspective on how much time you actually spend, “vegging,” and it will also help you cut that time down so you can avoid dragging yourself to bed hours after you planned to be asleep.
I know this list is fairly short and some of you will have already implemented one or more of these items, but I hope that this encourages you to explore constructive ways of tuning out and unplugging.
In the comments, I’d love to hear how you arrange your homes or lives to have a healthy balance of pop culture and silence.