There is something about physical harm and pain that reminds us to look before we… leap. Why? Because we leaped one too many times without looking and our brain has trained us not to do that again. That’s the way our brains work. And our brains work well. That is, at least, for a lot of things. However, our brains may work against us when it comes to others things.
We sit down and watch a cute, funny dog video on YouTube and that’s fine; no pain. Actually, we quite enjoy it. Our brains do not tell us: Look before you… watch. So, we don’t. We don’t consider what we watch or how often we watch because, after all, we like it.
What is “entertainment”? What does that word mean? It has been defined in this way: “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” So, entertainment gives us pleasure, enjoyment, and diversion; especially by a performance of some kind. For instance, I was entertained at NitroCircus when Travis Pastrana did a double backflip on a dirt bike.
To quote someone from a different arena, it would have been fitting for Pastrana to scream out:
“Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!”
There is a danger that people will die in entertaining us but is there also a danger for us as we are endlessly entertained?
Neil Postman wrote in 1985 about the danger of, as his book title says, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and that was before public internet, let alone social media and the smart phone. It is not an understatement to say that we are likely to amuse ourselves to death. There are serious health risks for us when all we care about is entertainment. There is the further danger that we’re not living and loving as we should. We’re liable to amuse ourselves until death, and never do anything worthwhile with the time we’ve been given.
Imagine: a picture of a man standing beside a fire extinguisher contemplatively looking at his home on the verge of going up in flames. You are looking at a picture of procrastination.
Part of this was written in the woods and there were still distractions tempting me to procrastinate. Partly because I wrote this on my phone in the woods. I was getting Snapchat messages and I was tempted to start taking pictures and posting them on Instagram. I was wondering what hashtags I should use, #tree? #trees? #woods? #treesinthewoods? Or is that too redundant? Or should I use all of the hashtags? And then there’s the question of location. Should I include the location or not? Should I zoom in a cool leaf and then use the little blurry feature to make it look cool?
That’s where our minds can go and do go, and super quickly. So, how, from a Christian perspective, can we take action against inaction? How can we have victory over procrastination?
First, it’s important that we know what procrastination is. Procrastination is the action of avoiding things that you need to do. “Procrastination… [is] willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.” Actually, “The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing.” So, one article I read said that procrastination is “the action of ruining your life for no apparent reason.”
It may be an action, and even an art and science, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like there was no action involved. It feels like it was inevitable. It feels…
[[My mind just interpreted me for something really important. So, I stopped writing this, and texted a friend to say: “I can probably go to a baseball game.”]]
That’s how our minds work, or at least my mind. Of course, distraction is different than procrastination but it’s en route.
Procrastination is intentional (or unintentional) distraction. And intentional action, which leads to accomplishing something, is the opposite of procrastination. It is purposing to do something and then avoiding the many distractions, good (texting your friend, enjoying leaves) and bad (e.g. Facebook stocking old friends), to accomplish that goal.
Why is productivity prized and procrastination penalized? What’s the big deal about watching endless loops of funny dog videos on YouTube? What’s the big deal about interrupting writing to text a friend (and take pictures of leaves and post pictures on Instagram and… and…)?
Proverbs and Procrastination
Most people say that they struggle with procrastination. There is so much to be done and so much to do to distract us.
Congratulations! The human attention span has shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds in around the span of a decade. Goldfish now have a longer attention span than humans!
Sometimes it seems like we’re helplessly stuck in destination procrastination. So, what can help us?
The book of Proverbs teaches us that productivity is good and procrastination is bad. For example:
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Prov. 12:11).
And there’s many others: Proverbs 10:5; 14:23; 19:15; 20:4, 13; 24:30-34; Ecclesiastes 5:12; Titus 3:14. “Wise wants” inform the counsel in Proverbs. Presumably, people desire to have a reputation for trustworthiness and honor; healthy friendships, including delightful romance; a sense of security and confidence; usefulness; and competence and success at work.
Many Proverbs capitalize on our “wise wants.” “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich” (Prov. 10:4 NLT). “A man is praised for his insight, but a twisted mind is despised” (Prov. 12:8 HCSB). These verses capitalize on the fact that we want to avoid poverty and want approval. Proverbs teaches us that if we want to avoid poverty and want to obtain approval we must work hard. So, Proverbs uses “wise wants” to speak to the issue of procrastination.
Enjoying life and having fun is good. Even having wealth is good, when used to God’s glory. Paul tells us that we are to receive all God’s blessing with thanksgiving (I think that even includes funny dog videos, but of course in moderation) (1 Tim. 4:4).
So, I’m not knocking on fun, pleasure, and leisure. They are God-given and good. But God has also given us things to accomplish and we flourish in life as we are functioning in His ordained will. We were meant to live for more than just distraction. We were meant to live for a purpose. It’s as we understand that purpose that we begin to experience freedom from distraction and procrastination. So, what purpose are we ultimately called to?
We’re called to…
Work for the Lord (Col. 3:23)
We are to work for the Lord in “whatever” we do. There is no area of our life that is ok for our ultimate motivation to be for ourselves. What about school? Sports? Family life? Work? All of it is supposed to be done as work unto the Lord, not men, not anything else.
Our work is not to be done in a begrudging manner. Our work is to be done “heartedly.” That is, fully, sincerely, enthusiastically, energetically, to the Lord.
However, we can’t manufacture this. It can, as we have seen, be hard enough to get something done, but now I’m saying not only do we need to work and get something done, we are to do so with a happy heart. This is hard so what can motivate us to defeat procrastination and live with purpose?
Work for the Reward from the Lord (Col. 3:24a)
Ultimately procrastination, as the opening illustration shows us, is not helpful and is actually illogical. But that’s not it. Procrastination doesn’t lead to prospering. We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).
However, that’s not it. Not only does life and our purpose in it just fit when we are carrying out what God has given us to do (that is not to say that life is easy) we also see that there is a “reward.” We have reason to keep our hand to the plow and purposely avoid distractions because we have a reward we’re working for, an “inheritance.” One that does not fade and won’t be destroyed (1 Pet 1:4).
So, hear Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9: 24-26).
Serve the Lord (Col. 3:24b)
We’ve clearly seen that it’s not about us. It’s about the Lord, we see that very clearly from Colossians 3:23-24.
So, if the “Lord Christ” is what it’s all about, if seeing Him, and keeping Him at the forefront of our lives helps us defeat procrastination and instead live God-glorifying and productive lives then it’s important that we see and know Him. Only then will we understand the purpose He’s given us. So, what is so glorious about Christ that can arrest our attention and make us drop everything thing to live for Him?
That question has been answered by many book-length treatments so I will just quote from earlier in Colossians:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”
That’s what led Paul to say “I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Phi. 3:8). As we know Christ more and more we will strive to live for Him more and more and not to earn His approval but simply out of love. We will put away distractions because they’re just that, they’re distractions.
A Few Suggestions
- If your same old proven-not-to-work methods aren’t working then get new methods
- Don’t let short-term temptations overwhelm your more important long-term goals by intentionally remembering what it is you’re working towards
- Break tasks down into smaller goals that can be more easily accomplished (“A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks look like from far away”)
- Ensure the task is specific, not vague
- Put checks in place to ensure that your tasks get done and you don’t get sidetracked (e.g. Ulysses’ knew he needed to be bound to the ship’s mast)
- Put your phone on airplane mode or throw it away
- Do what you have to do, not everything that comes into your mind
- Remember, putting things off only piles them up and makes them heavier
- Do the things you really hate first
- If you procrastinate you’re not doing the best that you can, you’re also missing a lot of real fun, like enjoying your hard earned accomplishments
As we live on purpose for the Lord we will more and more stop procrastinating because we are given amazing motivation to do so.
 James Surowiecki, “Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves.”
 “How sad to see brilliant, creative people pouring hours and days of their lives into creating cities and armies and adventures that have no connection with reality. We have one life to live. All our powers are given to us by the real God for the real world leading to a real heaven or hell” (John Piper, Taste and See [Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2005], 139).
 Interestingly, although procrastination “seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make you happy” (Surowiecki, “Later”).
 Urban, “How to Beat Procrastination.”
The genesis of social media was in Genesis. No we don’t see Snapchat or MySpace but we do see the raw material. That is, theologically.
Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.
We also see that humanity is to subdue the earth. This results in technological advances, even within the book of Genesis (you could consider the naming of the animals “technology”). Of course, Facebook and the invention of the book hadn’t happened. But advances were being made.
Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.
So we see that the desire to be connected and the desire for technological advances is not inherently bad. A case could be made to say connectivity and technological advances are “very good.” At the very least being connected and using advances is not bad in itself. However we also see something else really important that we must consider from the beginning of Genesis.
The Fall. The Fall didn’t do away with our need to be connected or to make advances and subdue the earth but it did corrupt it.
So what do these observations from Genesis have to do with social media?
It means that there are elements about social media that are good and there are elements about social media that are not good. It means that social media is not wholly good or wholly bad. It means that we must be careful consumers. We must be proactive and evaluative, not inactive and absorptive.
I plan to post more on this subject later but here are some other relevant posts:
 There were a lot of significant advances that we see in the beginning of Genesis. “Gardening and naming in Genesis 2, farming and clothes making in Genesis 3, city building and harp and pipe playing in Genesis 4, shipbuilding in Genesis 6, altar building in Genesis 8, fruit growing and wine making in Genesis 9, brick baking in Genesis 11, tent making in Genesis 12” (Steve Turner, Popcultured, 43).
What do we think about the fact that we don’t think about the loads of media that we ingest? Could it be we’re taking in far too many social media “sugars” but we have no labels warning us? And is it possible that at times Facebook is making us “fat”?
We have no scale. But we constantly carry around electronic candy bars. We have no nurtrician facts and nothing that labels the ingredients but does that mean we should say “bottoms up” and consume everything? And with no boundaries telling us when to consume? No “dinnertime”?
If we gave media consumption half as much thought as we do to candy bar consumption that would promote a lot of health.
We’re all new to this digital age. Which makes us babies. And if you know babies you know they have little discretion when it comes to food consumption. They literally consume what comes straight from their momma’s hand (or the unmentioned other part of their body) and basically anything they find on the floor.
They’re inexperienced. And so are we. They don’t really know what they should consume and sometimes neither do we. However, what is true of babies is true of us. What we consume affects us.
A Few Questions
- Are you aware of what you consume and how much you consume?
- Have you considered if what you’re “feeding” on in your feeds promotes health?
- Do you think it’s true that what you consume affect you?
- What are some other good questions to consider regarding social media?
Have you ever cooked a live frog?
You shouldn’t. But I’ve been told the trick is putting the frog into a pot of water at room temperature and then slowly turning up the heat until the frog is cooked. If you put the frog in when the water’s boiling it will jump out (This is an analogy. Please do not boil live frogs).
Change that is imperceptible effects us greatly. Even if we don’t realize it, perhaps especially because we don’t realize it.
It is very interesting and important to ask how we are being “cooked.” What impact is the digital age having on us?
First, I will not deny that the digital age has provided innumerable delights. I am not at all saying we should go back to the Stone Age or be Amish or something. I personally “like” Facebook and don’t mind Twitter. I like my iPhone even if it might be making me stupid.
We must, however, be aware that even if something is a delight it doesn’t mean we can consume it without thought. I find delight in ice cream but that does not mean that I consume it without discretion. Or, at least, I shouldn’t.
Second, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are connected with people and involved in community when we’re really just sitting on the toilet looking at what people are doing.
We can think that we’re smart, when it’s really just our smart phone. We are indiscriminately taught and sold a certain worldview and view of prospering by feeds, blogs, and tweets. Yet who articulates, let alone thinks about, the impact that Snapchat, Instagram, and our new phone appendage is having on us? Who checks their own pulse and asks if they are amusing their self to death?
Third, there are obvious dangers in the deceits that we have covered above but there are also other dangers we should consider.
There is a danger in thinking FaceTime is equivalent to face time. Is it? Who’s asking? Who cares?
Are men and women (and boys and girls!) so shaped and familiar with pornography that actual real, human, face-to-face, relationships are becoming irrelevant? Are people asking this question? Do people care?
How is Snapchat, the limited characters of Twitter, and the funny sound bits all over the place shaping the way we think and concentrate? Is the new artform of memes impacting other more refined forms of art? Are people asking this question? Does anyone care?
I could go on and on with these types of questions. But I won’t. I’ve probably already exceeded the limits of our concentration!
There will be more to come. But perhaps I can start a much-needed conversation with all my fellow Snapchaters, tweeters, Instagrammers, and Facebook feeders that have a phone appendage like me.
Enter the Conversation
What thoughts do you have on the delights, deceits, and dangers of the digital age?
How surreal, I am sitting in a Starbucks and there is an older couple sitting across from me. By all appearances they do not know each other. Their “date,” from what I can tell from spying, consists of looking at their cell phone (maybe the new iPhone 6s), touching it, and occasionally showing each other something on their phone; no doubt a new high score on “angry birds” or some other profound thing like a YouTube video of a monkey.
This is surreal for two reasons: 1) When this couple got together and started dating they could never have imagined the technology that would be available in the palm of their hand. Maybe this partly explains why they are so captivated by their phone and not by the actual person setting beside them. 2) When this couple got together, maybe thirty years ago, they could not have imagined wanting to hold some device in their hand rather than their loved ones’ hand.
Yet how things change. Affections fade and technology grows. And perhaps there is a correlation between the two distancing polls. If we hold a device in our hand instead of our loved ones’ hand, if we have “facetime” instead of real face time, if we have “facebook” and not time with real faces, if we have tweets and not conversations there will necessarily be a distancing effect from technology. And it will likely be that as technology advances so will be the chasm between relationships. However, if we start to put the work in on our relationships that any computer programmer puts in on technology then we may be able to keep pace with the discordant dissidents of technology. But this will require the intentionality and work ethic of those that are bringing us these great advances in technology.
In all of this realize that I am by no means saying that technology and advances in technology are bad, they are not in and of themselves (For instance, things like Skype can help relationships). Yet we must be very conscious in our use of technology. We must consider, am I playing “Tomb Raider” (or whatever it is called) when I should be looking deeply into my loved ones’ eyes? Am I “iTexting” when I should be talking to the person beside me? When I turn on my phone do I turn off my head? Does the “feed” on Facebook or Twitter feed my soul and intellect or does it leave me malnourished and hungry for something of substance like a book? Does being connected to the internet connect me to the world or allow me to be safely removed from it?
I have found these questions surprisingly relevant and present but often unheeded in my own life. I have noticed on more than a few occasions when my family is visiting that we will set around in the living room with more than one person on a technological device. We’ll be “hanging out” yet the majority of the people in the room are on a computer or some such thing. This form of “hanging out” is much different then I remember growing up, and I’m only twenty-eight! My kids will have to be especially careful in their use of technology.
Through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (and remember MySpace?) we have a world essentially created in our image. It’s nice. But it also feeds our narcissistic souls.[i] We like what we want and we want what we like; and if you, a certain political agenda, a religious view, or a video, a picture, or an advertisement (the most difficult thing to avoid in our cyber-haven) gets in my way I have the right, without reproach, to scroll on by.
Media brings a form of megalomania but it can also be a monster to meaning. It destroys meaning by stripping it of its context and by placing weighty things into too close a proximity to funny dog videos. When posts about politics, pantiliners, and poodles all show up in our (raging and undirected directed) “stream” then we might be taking in not a stream but a torrent of incoherent information.
It seems that social media has great potential to create an anti-intellectual ivory tower. That is, it distances us from people and what is really going on and allows us to make unsubstantiated comments that haven’t truly been contemplated. If we don’t take in the protein and exercise of hard thought we’re going to be weak. If we feed on what’s frail and fruitless, we will be frail and fruitless.
Tweets and feeds won’t feed us. And we cannot understand politics in sixty-second-sound-bits. Racial reconciliation isn’t and can’t be reconciled, let alone understood, when we merely rely on social media; instead of deep, patient, embodied, social change.
Violence and vengeance, bullying and bad behavior, won’t be solved by ads alone; even if the words are backed by a famous actor, artist, or athlete (that ironically likely undercuts the very thing they’re supposedly trying to communicate).
Further, social media may fool us, but it won’t fill us. We may enjoy Instagram but we weren’t there, we aren’t now, or we didn’t receive enough “stars” (or whatever) to fill out our significance.
The “word” “tweet” is fitting for Twitter because although I myself have a Twitter the whole thing is not congruent. When sentences and phrases are sheared of their context they have about as much meaning as a bird tweeting. So when we “tweet” we may be performing a type of onomatopoeia (an onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the source of the sound that it describes). That is to say, to tweet is to not say anything; or, at least, anything that is human in an extended rational sense.
As humans we can hear more than “tweet, tweet, tweet.” We can take in and bask in beautiful poetry or follow powerful prose. We can be “intoxicated” in beautiful ways literarily, but not so much if we stick w/ texting & tweeting.
Thankfully Chopin and Beethoven’s media wasn’t a kazoo and a triangle, that media would have greatly hindered them. Could it be that our media is hurting and hindering us? Maybe sometimes we need to even focus on a medium. Maybe even pick up a pencil and paper, put away distractions, and put something powerful and substantial down. Something outside of us, beyond us, and not about us. Maybe it’s time to read a book and get off Facebook.
[i] In the picture above by Caravaggio (1571-1610), Narcissus gazes at his own reflection and in a similar way we gaze into our computers, phones, and tablets. We narcissistically gaze at our profiles and our worlds that we have created in our image. Could we meet the same fate as Narcissus? Could we drown in a stream of information and technology?
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)