In Old Testament times, people carried personal idols around with them to receive guidance and blessing from their deity. Unfortunately, this tradition is often perpetuated in modern times by the way we carry our smart phones. We fear to part with them. We constantly check them to see if they have any messages for us. When posed with a tough question, our first reaction is to ask them for help.
Christmas time is supposed to be a season for meditation on the Incarnation of Christ. It is also an opportunity for us to propagate that Incarnational reality with friends and family. Ironically—or perhaps deviously—many have the urge to use this season to get their hands on the newest “pocket idol.
I have not been immune to this mentality. When I was in ninth grade, I had similar urges. Christmas was an opportunity to get the newest and hottest video game, phone, and whatever else was fashionable. Instead, my parents gave me books. In fact, I counted that year. I got 36 books and just four or five non-book presents. To make matters worse, my apex gift was an Oxford Thesaurus. At the time, I was incredulous at the idea of a thesaurus being my premier present. Interestingly enough, no one uses the electronic devices they acquired eight or nine years ago but I still use that thesaurus (I even used it for this article). Looking back, I am so fortunate my parents bought me so many books as it heavily influenced me to become a bibliophile.
The current generation of students venerate their tech gadgets more and more at the expense of loving books. Einstein feared the proliferation of technology and the decline in quality and quantity of human interaction would lead to a “generation of idiots.” His prophecy is coming true before our very eyes.
It should not be surprising. Technology’s purpose is to make life easier by spoon-feeding information in small bites and flashing images. On the other hand, books require hard work and creativity, forcing readers to immerse themselves in a world they create with the collaboration of the author. The words on the page are to the mind what the conductor is to an orchestra: a guide which channels creative abilities to fashion a transcendent experience with beauty and truth.
As a healthy diet requires plenty of vegetables, our brains require culture in sophisticated forms. The current generation of students are feasting on a diet almost exclusive made up of brain candy like Twilight, Justin Bieber, and American Idol while neglecting the importance of brain vegetables like Dante, Chaucer, Dickens, Wagner, Michelangelo, and the like.
Of course the solution is not to become anti-technology and embrace a technophobic agenda. The wise approach is one which understands the balance required when engaging with technology. As Plato insisted, the man of moderation is “the man of manly character and wisdom.”
The solution to the problems created by the rapid expansion of electronic gadgets is twofold. The first step is to begin feeding our children their brain vegetables. They may not like it at first. This is to be expected. A child who has been fed only cotton candy would despise broccoli their first time eating it. Yet the benefits vastly outweigh the annoyance of their initial indignant opposition as they will eventually (hopefully) grow into adults who appreciate truth and beauty and enjoy robust critical thinking skills.
The second aspect of the solution is to teach children the proper role of technology. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is not a right. It is a privilege to aid us in accomplishing tasks. This may mean adjusting our lifestyles as parents and teachers to set an example for them to follow. It is not enough to preach at them about their technology addiction. Boundaries must be created and enforced for their sake.
So as you are doing your last minute Christmas shopping ask yourself how the gifts you are giving them contribute to their mental diet. Give them the gift of beauty in the form of a great novel, tickets to a fantastic symphony, or whatever else you can think of that will aid them in their development as human beings.