Post-Modern life is riddled with media content pushing its way into our consciousness. Even if you are not on a regular diet of social media posts, the fact remains that news feeds, recommendation links, cell phone banners, and pop up ads all vie for your instant attention. Click bate, some might call them.
When you are not deliberate with what you choose to click, you fall
into the trap of content consumerism. Ever slip down the rabbit hole of YouTube recommended videos? You start by looking for a quick breakfast recipe…four hours later: you’re unwittingly learning how to perfect the cut crease for women with hooded eyelids. The most insidious part about this? You don’t even know that four hours have passed because just at the moment you were finding ideas for your breakfast prep, some other linked video interrupted your follow through.
Ladies, we are way too comfortable with consuming ideas without follow through.
Case in point: when was the last time you took notes about your pastor’s sermon message then actually went home to study them and read the entire chapter of each scripture referenced so you could gain better context? Or how often do you research DIY instructions for [insert personal project here] and then actually try it? How often do you comment on that blogger’s post to detail your challenges or successes in completing the project?
Before someone makes the argument that sometimes people just want to idly enjoy reading about ideas for the sake of reading about ideas (which is completely legitimate), let me make another point. What place do those ideas hold in your thinking life? In other words, what ideas could you search for during the time you are playing intellectual frisbee on Reddit? Could you be using that same Internet to research some of the content your pastor spoke about?
We don’t filter the type of information we let into our minds and hearts nearly as much as we should. In fact, I don’t even think a person can avoid the inundation of pop ups or ads without paying for some kind of plug-in.
I’m not promoting a fast from the Internet, per se (though doing so has great intrinsic value). I am saying we need to learn to be gatekeepers for what we watch, listen to, and involve ourselves in. I often have to remind myself to ask the key questions:
–Does watching my favorite vlogger cause me to subconsciously redirect my lifestyle to emulate hers?
-Was it really necessary to purchase those mason jars for my chia pudding on Amazon when my ZipLock containers would have sufficed for the time being?
-Did I already feel this anxious before I watched these CNN sound bites?
– Has my measure of success changed after reading Michelle Obama’s book? And if so, is the new measure aligned to my divine purpose in Jesus?
I want to make an important distinction here: just because media content seems healthy doesn’t mean it is healthy for you at that season of life.
For instance, it may appear innocuous for someone to search for low calorie recipes. However, it would be dangerous if that person had an eating disorder where she controls each and every calorie she consumes. I will confess that I myself have been guilty of watching sermon messages online thinking it was good, but it turns out I used it as a way of avoiding dealing with my heart issues through prayer. No one would think watching a sermon is harmful, but when you filter it through the context of my heart position you might reconsider. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything.”- But not everything is beneficial.
These are merely two examples. But can you see how easily our good intentions with consuming content can actually contribute to escapism, avoidance, or distraction?
So how can we tell the difference? Well, the way to understand whether your content consumption is valuable is simply to look at the fruit. Does the content stir you to make change, positive growth, or inspire yourself and others? Does the content teach you about yourself? Is the content divinely aligned with God’s purpose and calling in your life?
Here are some of the actions I have made over the years to ensure I become a good curator of my consumption:
1. The only notifications on my phone are for calls and texts.
Even my emails do not ping. This means that I prioritize my relationships over content from vlogs, news, apps or emails. There is a very deliberate reason for this: I want to be present for my own life. I don’t want to be interrupted 17 times when I’m hanging with Mom. I don’t want my phone to ping every two minutes when I’m having a phone conversation with a friend. Yes, a phone conversation. I’m aware I am from a different time, which is why I do enjoy phone conversations as a substitute for face to face visits with friends who live long distance or have opposite schedules. During these times that I value most, I redirect the content being lobbed at me. As the Distracted Driving campaign motto states: It Can Wait. It really can.
2. I don’t use social media–
I know, controversial. I know, I miss out on a lot- A LOT- of social functions and announcements, even those of my closest friends. However, I am willing to pay this price. Why? The years I was on social media were marked by far more dismay at the petty, negative comments and extreme over share (I don’t need to know that my cousin just had IHOP and dropped a deuce). I stayed on social media as long as I did because I wanted to stay included in my friend’s lives and social events.
But I discovered that the challenge of staying in touch while NOT being on social media is more fulfilling. I feel less like a voyeur and more an active participant in my friends’ lives because I have to be deliberate (there’s that word again) about calling them and planning visits. Therein lies the secret of truly doing life together- being active participants in one another’s lives.
Consuming their social media content was way too passive and yielded fruitless results; looking at their vacation pics or finding out about their new dog usually made me feel inadequate or jealous. You simply don’t get the whole picture when you learn about your own friends through what they choose to post. Instead, I have the freedom to ask them about their lives, which lends itself to understanding the nuances and different perspectives of their highs and lows, not just their highs. In short, I get to dig for more connectivity with people rather than screen through ideas like it’s junk mail piled up after a three-week vacation.
A good curator must decide what they want more of and what they want less of. Although a very valid argument can be made to the contrary, I choose not to use social media because I choose to pursue the depths of vulnerability and trust that a two-way street requires when you do life together.
3. I research the other side –
Playing devil’s advocate may be my favorite pastime. I only recently understood why. Devil’s advocate gives voice to the other side, and whether or not this little game changes your mind or fortifies it, the sign of a mature person is they are willing to be open to other perspectives.
This is why I play devil’s advocate with any news story that has a political or social angle. I search different media outlets for op-eds written by professional writers to gather all the perspectives surrounding the story before I myself make any conclusions. It is no secret that news stories are fashioned for their target audience and chosen for how many clicks they can attract. I feel it is my responsibility to finish the journalistic investigation to complete the whole picture- at least as much of the picture as I can.
4. I choose my TV shows carefully-
Most of my life I have been drama and indie film buff. This was the measure of a film’s greatness in my opinion: did it make me cry? inspire me to overcome a fear? reevaluate my life’s purpose? At the advice of two therapists, I now choose comedies or light-hearted content. If it is dramatic, it is fictitious enough so as to not trigger me.
I really miss my dramas. But knowing that I am a highly sensitive person, and a high school teacher, and constantly battling sickness, I know that I need to balance what I consume with lighter fare so as to compensate for the sobering heaviness of my world.
How did I make the jump from serious intellectual movies to the comedy and feel-good spectrum? Well, I used our post-modern media technology filters to benefit rather than hurt me. Netlflix has recently pushed a ton of stand up comedy, so my selection is much bigger than, say, a year ago. As well, the new wave of Hulu and Netflix original series has worked to my benefit because shows made by paid subscriptions are not at the mercy of regular network TV regulations and censorship. Not to mention, paid subscriptions networks can afford to spring for the most creative writers and producers. Hence, their shows are topical, intellectual, and bring cutting edge humor.
5. Bottom Line
The idea is I don’t want my media to control me and trigger me; instead, I want to control what my media does for me. We live in an unprecedented time where information, which once cost a fortune and was mostly inaccessible, is now literally at our fingertips for free. The sheer amounts of information require us to weed out what is not edifying from what is. Most of the posts hurled at us have some sort of agenda, whether it be to get us to buy something or buy into an idea. As children of Christ, we are responsible for scrutinizing and subsequently sifting what we allow our eyes, ears, and hearts to feast upon.
Because everyone’s life is unique; different things work for each individual. My action steps will not look like everyone else’s, perhaps even the opposite. Your choices are personal and God will honor them if your heart is postured well. So, what are some of the methods you already use- or plan to use- to curate your content?