When I was a kid I remember watching a short Disney cartoon that made an indelible impression on me. It showed a bear named Humphrey, who desperately wanted some fish. He swiped at the lake over and over, and all that he ended up with was a tiny minnow. As he held it above the water, sad that it was so tiny, a bigger fish jumped up and swallowed it whole.
At that point he had an epiphany. He could hold the fish over the water and one by one collect the larger fish that jumped up to eat the minnow. Soon his arms were full of large fish. Just as he was about to walk away a fish bigger than all the others floated by. He dropped all of the other fish and pounced.
It turns out that the floating fish was just a balloon, not a real fish at all.
As I look around these days, the whole world feels kind of like that cartoon. I go out to eat and I see whole families sitting with their phones out. Heck they even have started putting a tablet with games included on the table at restaurants.
Or, I see all of the amusement options that are truly endless: surfing the internet, YouTube, YouTube Red, YouTubeTV, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Cable, Satellite, Playstation, Nintendo, Xbox, PC, iMac, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Galaxy Tab, Kindle, Blu Ray, Movie Theater, Hip-hop, Rap, Country…(whatever music floats your boat), ATV, DVD, LMNOP… the list goes on and on and in fact, either now or in just a little bit you reading this are going to start coming up with other distractions that I didn’t name.
I go into church and watch, as many people cannot make it through an even short sermon without checking their many social media streams, seemingly unaware of this being one greatest of signs of idolatry…”Hold on God, I think I just got a like.”
For me, this all became even more poignant recently on a short flight to a work conference. I was seated in the 737 next to a young woman who looked to be in her mid 20’s. They made the usual announcement for everyone to put their phones into airplane mode. My seatmate started typing even faster so that she could get all of her posting done before the plane took off. The stewardess came and reminded her and she reluctantly pocketed her device.
A bit after takeoff, the pilot announced that the in-flight wifi was active and people could log-on. It was at this point that I learned several things. First, this was like oxygen to my seatmate, who had been holding her socially networked breath since the plane’s wheels started moving. Secondly, she was very new at the whole airplane thing.
She immediately pulled out her phone, logged on to the wifi, and started checking 4 social networking accounts. They were in this exact order: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and some chat app that I didn’t care to investigate. None of them were working. They wouldn’t update, and so she rechecked them in the same order…over, and over and over.
I could have told her that she had to use the internet browser, sign on, and pay for the service before anything would work (and even then, sometimes those are blocked), but my schadenfreude wouldn’t allow this. Plus, I’m not sure that she knew that I was next to her, or that anyone else existed outside of her phone.
She checked the same 4 apps at least every 5 minutes through the entire 2-hour flight.
The story is funny, but mostly because she didn’t know how to access the plane’s Internet. When you think about it, it is actually really sad. In fact, this desperation seemed like something you’d see with heroine addiction. Amazingly though, her inability to experience the world outside of her phone is actually pretty common these days.
And really, when you think about it, this is truly sad. I’m not speaking against the millions of playthings and technology that we have around us all the time. It is not the electrons flowing around us that makes this tragedy. It is that we, as a society are plugged in, and yet completely unplugged from life at the same time.
That girl next to me did miss out on all of the postings on all of her networks for the two hours that she was on the plane. But really, if she was able to access them all she would probably have landed without her life being impacted by them much, if at all. And what if instead, she had spent those two hours with her head up, interacting with the world around her. She probably would have found that a lot more memorable. I remember her face, but I guarantee that she doesn’t remember any face of anyone on that plane.
So, just like the cartoon bear of my childhood, we have all ignored the feast of the real world that is right in our hands in order to go all in and grasp at things that are not real at all. We’ve traded reality for the virtual.
An interesting note on “Virtual Reality,” the dictionary defines it as “not real, but made by software to appear so.” No matter how amazing it may seem, we’re giving up the real, for an imaginary image. Not a good trade at all, if you ask me.
Which is a huge step down for our greedy nature. It used to be that we had to struggle against the covetous desires that grew from lust for physical things. That clearly still exists. However, we’ve gone a step into the truly ridiculous. People now focus their lives on the idol of the virtual. But those of us who follow Jesus are supposed to fight against these things, even if it seems cool.
Let’s look at what Romans 12:2 says:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
I think that The Message version of this is worded really interestingly.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
God intends the Christian to intentionally live life differently. We aren’t supposed to be like everyone around us. In fact, he warns against the worthlessness of being like that. I think that a lot of us have completely traded our relationship with God for our own amusement.
Humphrey the cartoon bear was hungry for some fish. He was starving, as all bears seem to be. We are starving too, but for relationship. It is in our very nature. But as much as the dopamine hits from your social media rewards feel good, it replaces the real thing of actual plugged-in human interaction. We are made in God’s image, and part of that image is about relationship–real relationship. That relationship fulfills us in ways that the virtual never will.
And the great thing is that we are meant for relationship with not only each other, but the creator of the universe too. God doesn’t need you, but he wants you. That is even better. You have nothing to give Him that will fulfill him. He wants you anyway.
He is sitting there, the only one sitting at the dinner table with His face not buried in a tiny screen. He is wanting you to look away from the screen long enough to have real relationship. He wants to share your life with him, not comment on His picture. He wants your heart, not a “like” on His Facebook page. And we were made for that. That will satisfy our hungry bear-bellies more than a whole armload of fish.—Ryan