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"Why All the TVs? The Death of Attention and Our Loss of Ability to Listen"

The Death of Listening

Recently, my wife, Olivia, and I went to a restaurant for a date. Just the two of us. With grandma watching the four little ones at home, this was a treat. I was so excited to spend time with my bride, looking forward to gazing into her eyes and talking the night away. Then it happened. My nemesis. As we sat down, positioned right behind her head were 8,000,000 pixels of high-definition distraction. I noticed the TV and looked behind me to see if we could switch seats. Nope, a TV on that wall too.

My heart's intent was to listen deeply to my wife. That became a very difficult task. I wanted to hear her. I desired an environment to foster communication. The whole time we were there, I had to fight the urge to let the dopamine receptors get their fix by glancing over her shoulder.

It's not just that one restaurant, though. Screens have become ubiquitous. Visit your local large chain sit-down restaurant and you'll find tablets on the table ready for games and distraction. Don't like those games? Pull out your phone.

What impact does all of this have on our attention and our ability to deeply connect with others? Are we giving up relationships for pixels? Are we no longer able to listen to each other because we are bombarded with constant distraction?

The Rise of the Screen Culture

When televisions first came out, they were expensive. Adjusted for today's numbers, it would have cost roughly $10,000 to bring home a TV. But thanks to Moore's Law, those prices continued to decrease, and screens became more and more accessible to everyday Americans.

Our culture can't stand boredom. We can hardly imagine sitting in silence. We can't wait in a doctor's office without a screen.

We have gone from a culture where entertainment was a social function to sitting on the toilet looking at out screens. Maybe you are even reading this on the porcelain throne...

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to convince you to be a Luddite. I'm not demanding you throw away your smartphone. I'm not trying to shame you for your screen time (Though I am often ashamed of my own). My concern is what the ubiquity of screens and distractions does to our ability to communicate with one another.

The Noise of Our Culture

We are so accustomed to the noise that we sometimes don't even realize how inundated we are. This is a problem for relationships and society. Gen Z spends an average of seven hours and seven minutes a day on their phones. Baby Boomers also spend hours a day on screens, roughly three hours per day.

Your attention is valuable. So valuable that people will build multibillion-dollar platforms to keep us sucked into their infinite scrolls. Algorithms are created and refined to keep your eyes on the screen for as many minutes of the day as possible. The result is lonliness and isolation. The problem is so serious that the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on "Our Epidemic of Lonliness and Isolation."

It's not until the proverbial Wall-E bumps into us and messes up our day that we realize the beauty of the world and the people around us.

It takes work to pay attention. Now more than ever.

Regaining Connection

There's no going back to the "good ol' days." Screens are with us whether we like it or not, some for the good and some for the bad.

But the people in your life deserve you.

Your children deserve your attention. The youth of today are starving for someone to notice and listen to them.

There are nursing homes filled with the elderly having no companion but their television. Christian, they are desperate for you to visit them.

Your wife needs you to fight distractions and listen to her.

Your husband needs you to put away your phone and listen to him.

Your children don't need one more episode; they need you.

It is not good for us to be alone. God made us communal beings. He made us to interact with one another. He made us to love one another. He made us to listen to on another.

Want to be radically countercultural? Go to church. Listen to a sermon. Listen to the people sing. Listen to the prayers. Listen to the children laugh at lunch. Listen to the elderly as you linger after worship. Listen to the friends as you spend time together.

The world wants your attention. God wants your heart. Your family needs your attention. Your spouse needs you to listen. Your community needs you to pay attention.

Lean in - undistractedly.

Listen - wholeheartedly.

Invest your attention in what matters.

It's worth the effort to listen. It's worth every moment.

Bryan Schneider

Bryan Schneider

Husband to Olivia. Father of Nathan, Deborah, Daniel, & Ellie. Blessed to serve Sharon RP Church (sharonrpc.org). Loving Rural life.

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