Outsmarting Your Smart TV

Mike outlines how a Christian can maintain holy thinking and behavior in our media-drenched society.
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Someone asked me if they would be able to program their Smart TV once they read this Mini Book. Unfortunately, you still have to slog through the TV's manual for that but after this read, your TV will know who's the boss. So let's begin by reading a passage from the gospel of Matthew.

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
- Matthew 6:22-23

In this passage, Jesus teaches us a basic truth about human nature and then adds a warning. First, the truth is that what we allow into our hearts through our eyes will determine what kind of hearts we have. Secondly, Jesus warns that we should guard our eyes because through them we can either be in the light or in the darkness. In other words, our vision (what we look at, what we see, what we permit to enter) influences our character. It is no wonder, then, that there is such a battle going on for the control of the airwaves that carry the images (the video images) whether they are from movies, television, computer screens, tablets, phones, TV's, Smart TV's, or whatever else will be invented in the next twenty seconds.

With the arrival of "Smart" TV's we have entered the perfect storm of information access. These marvels combine computers, which access internet sites (over one billion of them), with televisions, that not only provide various types of entertainment products but deliver them on eye popping screens that rival movie theaters in size and hypnotic clarity. Everything on the Internet that we used to only view on our phones, tablets, or computer screens, and all the programming we watched from the big networks like NBC and cable channels like HBO will now be available on our 80-inch 10K TV screen, all controlled from that little remote. There is, therefore, a great battle going to decide who will control what you see on your smart TV. The reason for this is that whoever controls what appears on the screen also controls the one watching the screen. I want to thank my brother and friend in the Lord, Kent Allen, for some insights he shared on this topic awhile back, ideas that can help all of us outsmart our "Smart" TV's so that we control them and not the other way around.

The Influence That TV Has on Us

In his book, 'The Electronic Millstone', Dr. Philip Patterson says that the greatest single danger that video (in all of its forms) poses is the idea that video has no influence on us. Patterson argues that this false notion is more dangerous than the actual images themselves.

When people consume media with this in mind, they become more vulnerable to media's influence. In his research (using images from television and movies) Dr. Patterson found out that TV (I use the term TV to include all forms of video imagery transmitted on various devices) does influence us in a variety of ways. For example:

1. TV Shapes Our Values

The things we think are important or true are largely determined by what we watch and absorb each day from the information we receive. There was a period when a combination of home, school, church, and newspapers shaped our opinions. But now television, in all of its forms, has a much greater role in determining our values because TV has our attention for a greater amount of time each day (CNN recently reported that teenagers spend an average of nine hours per day consuming visual media).

2. TV Causes Unrealistic Expectations

TV blurs the perception of reality. After watching some 10,000 commercials you begin to expect people to look a certain way or to own certain things. For example:

  • The people at the real beach don't look anything like the people at the beach on Baywatch.
  • The guys in high school don't look, act, or talk like the actors in movies about high school.

And yet, there are millions of people desperately trying to look like these "make believe" people who are disappointed that they are not succeeding. It is interesting to note that when you look at the bios of the actors who play the role of high school students you learn that these performers are in their 20's, not the16 and 17-year-olds that they portray on the screen.

3. TV Numbs Our Sensitivity to Suffering

Constant exposure to violence may not make us violent people but it can make us indifferent to the suffering of others. Over a three year period younger people watching TV and movies, in addition to playing video games and seeing violent videos on the Internet, may witness up to 10,000 people being tortured and killed in imaginative, make-believe violence. This steady diet of mayhem has a hardening effect on the soul to a point where the report of just one person being killed for real does not have much impact. The attitude is, "Just one guy died, what's the big deal?"

The evidence of this is that "Reality" shows have become more popular because people are no longer thrilled by a movie about murder, they want to see a documentary about a real murder. We, as a society, want this because we have become numb to violence and suffering. How else do you explain a 14-year-old killing another 14-year-old with a gun simply because that person had the wrong color shirt on or that person insulted him somehow? To murder someone in such a casual manner requires a hardened heart, and that state of being is conditioned by a steady exposure to real and imagined violence.

4. TV Reduces Resistance to Sin

Much of today's media content does this by glamorizing sin or by showing it as normal, even as something good. Homosexuality, for example, has always been condemned in the Bible as immoral behavior (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27) but the media has normalized this type of activity by presenting sympathetic homosexual characters in movies and in TV dramas and comedies. The audience identifies with these make-believe people. They are created to be liked and accepted and in doing so viewers also accept the sinfulness as normal. Eventually, the general public begins to think that it is wrong to be against these things. After twenty years of showing healthy, happy, wonderful, sympathetic characters who happen to be gay it is no wonder that the present generation believes that being gay is normal and the problem lies with the Bible and those who believe it.

5. TV Replaces Our Relationships

I counsel young people who are about to get married not to put a TV or computer in their bedrooms because it will interfere with their sex lives. We think being a football widow or a soap opera fan is funny, but many people would rather be with their tablets, TV's, or phones than with their spouses, families, or friends.

TV does this in a subtle way in that it gives you everything you want and asks for nothing in return. Watching television is an enjoyable pastime because it provides entertainment, but the TV never asks you to get up and do something. The television doesn't say to you, "Would you mind taking out the trash?" The TV doesn't say to you, "Mommy, play with me," or "Daddy, come let's go to the park." For some it has an all consuming effect that makes them passive, except if someone stands in front of the screen or tries to take control of the remote.

Women watch Oprah jog. They watch Oprah talk. They watch Oprah read or cook but they themselves don't do it, they just watch Oprah do it. Men watch the home runs and admire the action heroes. They watch pretend soldiers get the bad guys but they don't participate in any of these things, they just watch others do it. Because of television's influence we have become a watching society instead of the doing society.

6. TV Wastes Time

If you watch about three hours of TV every day you are spending twenty percent of your waking hours in front of a screen of some kind. Think about that. A fifth of your disposable time in front of a screen! People shouldn't ask why they feel guilty, have poor self-esteem, lack motivation or the sense that they're not getting anywhere, they're wasting 20% of their lives looking at fantasies about other people's lives or following some clueless reality show star on Twitter. Of course, I could go on to say positive things about information technology, popular entertainment programming, or the educational values of the Internet and TV, but this Mini Book is not about that. It is about the negative ways that media influences us and how we can control this. Here are a few suggestions that can help us outsmart our "Smart" TV's.

The Smart Way to Watch Your Smart TV

#1 - Select What You Are Going to Watch

The wonderful thing about today's technology is that it does provide the viewer with a measure of control. Gone are the days of "appointment TV" where the family had to organize its schedule around its favorite shows on TV. Since the arrival of DVR technology we can simply schedule and record the programs we want to see in the DVR's memory and watch these when it is convenient. This permits us to not only select in advance what we will see, it also allows us to keep our priorities straight. We can examine the suitability of what we allow into our homes through the TV in advance, and also avoid neglecting important things like family time and church attendance in order to take in the big game or the latest episode of our favorite reality show. Of course, we need to take advantage of this opportunity in order to reap the possible blessings that this type of equipment now affords us.

Paul, the Apostle, says that Christians are to seek things which are, "...right and pure and lovely and praiseworthy..."(Philippians 4:8); Solomon reminds us that, "A wise man is hungry for truth while the mocker feeds on trash..."(Proverbs 15:14); and King David said, "...turn my eyes away from worthless things..."(Psalms 119:37).

It is a question of who is in control. Are we in control or is the TV in control?

#2 - Actively Evaluate What You See

Solomon says, "A simple man believes everything," (Proverbs 14:15), and Paul writes that we should, "...test everything, hold on to the good and avoid every kind of evil," (I Thessalonians 5:21). Today's parents have learned that the best way to educate their children about the advantages and dangers associated with consuming media is to be online with their children and watch TV together as well so that they can comment on and discuss what they have seen. We cannot shield children from every bad word or idea that enters our homes through the TV, computer, or phone but we can teach them to know the difference between what is good and what is bad, what is useless, what is gossip, and what is propaganda disguised as news or entertainment. The objective is to teach them the fine art of discernment so they can eventually regulate themselves as to the amount of time spent in front of a screen and the moral quality of what they permit themselves to watch.

#3 - Turn It Off

Sometimes we need to have the courage to simply turn the TV off or shut the computer down in order to get in touch with ourselves again. The fierce competition for our attention, loyalty, and money is seen by the increasing number of texts, calls, commercials, and e-mails that bombard us each hour...to the point where most of our communication is made up of junk mail/calls. There is so much of this type of "noise" around us that we risk losing our sense of self in this media mad society. Certainly one thing that suffers is our ability to maintain spiritual balance as believers living in an increasingly unbelieving world.

Sometimes the first step necessary to regain that inner peace and constant communication with God is to turn off the instruments that allow the world and its agenda to flood into our lives and drown out the voice of the Spirit who lives within us. This is not an easy thing to do because the TV, the computer, the tablet, and the phone are always there and always drawing us in to see what new thing has become the "new" thing.

A complete rejection of this technology is not the answer. Retreating to a media-less world would require us to exile ourselves to a pretty lonely and dysfunctional place. The answer, I believe, is to be smarter than our devices as far as what we permit ourselves to consume through them, how much time they are turned on each day, and how we can use today's communication technology to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. In this way we will always be the "smart" one in the TV/Viewer relationship.

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