The contemporary world is one absolutely saturated with media. It seems that in almost every pocket, living room, bedroom, bar, and classroom in America there is a piece of technology that connects us to the media. By “the media” I mean simply the public broadcast of rhetorical or entertaining material. There is really no historical precedent for this level of media saturation. Historical peoples have had circuses, horse races, theater, or the opera. But these pastimes were not available 24/7, on demand, on private devices. I’d like to give a perspective from neuroscience, from sociology, and strait from the Biblical, to help us understand how to feel about these strange times.
Neurology: Mirror Neurons
Mirror Neurons were not discovered until the early 1990’s, but they have incredible implications concerning our social behavior. Scientists have discovered that when we observe behavior performed by someone else, our own brain activity mirrors that of the actual participant. This is what can make video-based media so engrossing. When we see someone smile, our own brains behave as though we were smiling. When we see someone using a hammer, our own brains behave as though we were using a hammer. The same principle applies when we see sexual acts or instances of graphic violence or revenge in the media.
Sociology: Distortion of Perspective
Media sends messages to us about what is important. Malcom Muggeridge put it this way: “Now can this really be, as the media continually insists, what life is about–this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets litter the world?”
Essentially, the media tells us that everyone else, “the public,” is very concerned or interested or entertained by exhibit A, and that we should be, too. There is an intense focus on violent crimes, the latest celebrity gossip, etc. In this way, it inflates the importance of subjects that only distract us from our own personal talents and responsibilities, and the work to be done in the Kingdom.
Bible: Intentions of the Heart
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Jesus is pointing out for us that something as simple as visual a stimulus is capable of opening the door to very damaging mental processes. He goes on to tell us later in the sermon that “the eye is the lamp of the body.” Jesus knew what contemporary psychology and neuroscience is telling us, that what we see has a profound impact on us.
I urge Christian readers, consider the motives behind your consumption of media. Consider the effects that television and movies may be having on your values. And I urge us all to meditate on great themes and do great things in this world. Do not sacrifice your mind to the media.