Living in a Visual Society (I)
(reprinted from the Hope P. R. Christian School’s Highlights, May, 2016)
Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI
When I was a child, most screens were to keep bugs out of the house when the weather was warm. The only electronic screen was the television which not only was black and white, but which could receive broadcast signals from a total of four, yes, count them, four, television broadcasting networks.
How times have changed. Screens are now on phones, computers, tablets, in automobiles and at sports stadiums. Adults, and even children, constantly have a screen within reach. I recall a road trip with my family several years ago. We were driving through the unbelievably wondrous landscape of southern Utah. The unusual landscape appeared to be something from another planet as it rolled by mile after amazing mile. I can still hear the groan of dismay emanating from my children as we were passed by a minivan. The groan’s origin was not that old dad was being passed, again, by yet another vehicle with less horsepower than we possessed. No. They had spotted youngsters in the back of a van watching a movie on small screens. “What!” they exclaimed. “You have a chance to see this wonderful creation and you’re sitting there watching a movie?”
In yesteryear’s classroom, a filmstrip was a visual treat. Filmstrips have not been used for about twenty-five years now, so the current generation of students, and even their parents, no longer know what a filmstrip was. A filmstrip was a roll of pictures on a transparent plastic roll which was run through a small projector. They would cover certain academic topics with words beneath the picture or, if more words were necessary, on a separate slide. We students would take turns reading the slides and the teacher would rotate a knob to advance to the next frame. How exciting! Now smartboards and ceiling mounted projectors can be found in nearly all of our classrooms. Teaching has become increasingly visual.
What is the effect of all this visual, and nearly constant, stimulation on our children? There are several matters which concern me. However, I will limit my concern here to one matter because of the constraint of space.
First, we would benefit from a brief refresher on our creation and the origin of sin. One aspect of man’s creation is the body. Our five physical senses are as portals to our souls. Our souls, which have no physical substance, are linked to the creation by our senses. What enters these portals influences our spiritual lives. What we taste, touch, smell, and especially what we see and hear, affects our souls.
God often makes us listen as He uses the portal of the ear to reach our hearts. We hear His Word preached. We hear an inner voice as we read Scripture. God spoke to Adam and Eve. He told them to eat of the tree of life, and not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told them the consequences of disobedience. And that was it. God could have come to Adam and Eve in a vision and shown to them the dreadful results of sin. After all, God gave Daniel and John very powerful and striking visuals in their visions. As for just the physical toll of sin, not considering the spiritual aspect of sin here, He could have revealed in a vision to Adam and Eve the ravages of aging or the maiming of sickness. God could have shown them the horrors of a body returning to dust in the grave. He did not. He merely told them they would die. They were to listen to Him.
What of the origin of sin? Satan presented the forbidden fruit as desirable. Yes, Satan spoke to Eve for a time, but he did not engage in a long dialogue with her to present to her in logical sequence why what God said was false and should not be believed. Satan especially directed Eve to look at the fruit. Whatever the fruit was, it was not disgusting, nor did it have worms. Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it was desirable. What Eve had heard God say would be the consequence of disobedience was overridden by what she saw. The fruit looked good. What we see can often overwhelm what we hear.
My greatest concern about our visual society is what will happen to our children as they hear the preaching of the gospel. Whether your pastor is crowned with the gray hairs of the wisdom of years or whether he is young, whether you think your pastor is attractive or whether you think he is not, when we listen to our pastors deliver a sermon, there is not much visual stimulation. Reformed worship services are not visual and that is deliberate because it is biblical.
We require our children to be attentive during church. Yet actively listening that long is hard. Notice once, the visual pace of images on our screens. One hardly ever has an opportunity to focus for long. The image is constantly changing, every five seconds at least. If this image does not grab you, let’s quickly move on to the next one. You don’t like this? Well, just wait a few seconds and perhaps you will find the next one more to your liking. One wonders whether or not our pastors even have a chance to hold our children’s attention when children are growing up in such a visual society.
Also, we develop skills by practice. Your youngster cannot kick a ball yet? Take him or her into the backyard and kick a ball around together. While the youngster might not ever reach the level of excellence, he or she will improve. What will happen to our listening skills as society requires us to use them less and less? Much is said today about the development of neural pathways in the brains of children. Modern researchers say the brain prunes away connections which are no longer used so pathways which are used can become stronger. If seeing dominates how we learn, how well will we be able to learn by hearing?
What are we to do in this era of the flickering, mega-pixeled high-def screen? Let us turn them off and put them away for awhile each day. Slow down and read a book for yourself or to your children. Develop some artistic skill, no matter how rudimentary. Mealtime can be hectic, and sometimes we parents just want to hurry up and finish eating so we can clean up the mess and move on to the next household chore. However, try to invest some time to engage in dinner conversation with your children and ask questions to see whether or not the children heard what you or their siblings had to say. Are they learning to listen?
It’s easy, too easy, to turn on a screen and let the eye be dazzled. Let’s make sure the portal of the ear is open, actively engaged and well connected to our souls and the souls of our children.