Columnists > Voices
Krieg Barrie

Generation distraction

Culture | With digital technology, we are able to insulate ourselves from what makes us human

Issue: "Into thin air," Aug. 23, 2014

What if the Day of Pentecost occurred only a year ago?

It was a big deal: those tongues of fire, those 12 nobodies from the sticks suddenly appearing at an international conference and speaking languages they’d never learned. Remember that ringing declaration of a new order from the lead guy? “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!”

The event, quickly tagged as “Pentecost 2014,” dominated the news cycle. Every network and cable service led with it, every talk show host took calls about it, every news program vied to get Peter and John for interviews. “Pentecost” was hot.

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One week later, the discovery of an underground cannibal cult pushed the movement from the top spot—even though Peter and John, still touring the interview circuit, were asked if some of Jesus’ more obscure teachings might have influenced the cannibals.

One month later, the nation was consumed with updates about the president’s divorce.

Today, a talk-show producer on a slow news day was heard to ask, “Hey, whatever happened to that Pentecost thing? Is it still around? Worth a follow-up?”

This corrupt generation is still corrupt—they all are. But this generation is also supremely, unprecedentedly, distracted. And that may be even worse. (By the way, will it be hot enough to take the kids to the pool tomorrow? Better check the weather real quick.)

The word “corrupt,” sometimes translated “crooked” or “defiled” in the ESV, implies a good thing gone bad, like a rotten peach or rusted pipe (Hey, did I remember to print that recipe I saw on Facebook?). The corrupting factor is often traced to desire, as in “corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22) or, “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4). It’s a slow process that allows a noble object, such as love, beauty, or success, to become an idol corroded by the acid of misplaced affection. Desire leads to active sin: cheating, stealing, seizing. Multiplied sins corrupt an entire generation and the world they inhabit.

I’m wondering if endless distraction suspends the normal course of sin by disengaging desire. If we lust after the latest in technology, it’s only so we can be distracted better. Smartphones allow us to carry our distractions everywhere we go. Google Glass, an “optical head-mounted display,” allows us to wear them. Up next: live feeds embedded in the brain, a science-fiction concept that may not be far off.

Psalm 101:3 (“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless”) is a caution about where lust begins. Pornography, now just a click away on your iPhone, is the obvious example. But if a succession of things, worthy and unworthy, are parading before your eyes in a continual loop, if you can’t settle down to read a long article about sanctification on monergism.com before checking your Twitter feed, is your desire for nothing but diversion? They say that crime rates have fallen over the last 10 years. Is that because our culture has become more virtuous, or more virtual? Have our many distractions consumed some of our evil desires? If so, is that a bad thing?

Almost 30 years ago (Has it been that long? Better check Amazon ... yep, originally published 1985. Customers who bought it also bought—hey, that looks like an interesting title: click) Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Television was the target; Postman didn’t foresee where digital technology was going. But his basic premise remains sound: As a society, we’re in danger of distracting ourselves to the point of stultification. Ominous events become last week’s news cycle. Enemies steal past our outer defenses while we’re looking elsewhere. Everything matters, so nothing does. Little by little, we insulate ourselves from desire, the longing at our core that makes us human, both for good and evil.

In an age like ours, Christians must be intentional about being intentional. “Seek first the kingdom”—purposefully and ardently, now more than ever.

(Oh look! What’s that?)

Flee this distracted generation.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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