Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Our Electronic, Thrill-Seeking Existence

Life feels so ordinary sometimes. We this all there is? We look for the large moment...the defining event....sweet victory set to metaphorical applause. Like in the movies. Our hours of triumph seem oddly fleeting. Our hours of defeat feel too frequent.

Sports events give us the vicarious pleasure of dramatic winning and losing. Our emotions ricochet in a pleasing cycle of despair and exuberance, all while munching snacks, until the big game culminates in a clear, neatly summarized ending. Winners and losers. And we look at our calendar for the next event....the next chance to feel, the next chance to win.

TV sitcoms help us laugh at ourselves and our predicaments. Crime dramas incorporate us into daily newpaper headlines. We're there...we partcipate in the gruesome excitement. Soaps operas bring romance and gorgeous people into our homes. Reality TV gives us the thrill of risk-taking without taking real risk. Game shows cause us to glimpse sudden, effortless riches. Foodies experience gourmet cooking on FoodTV, and then go out to dinner. Armchair travellers visit Europe and Africa in a night, and go to bed sated by electronic wanderlust. My mother watches dog shows, and then feels better about no longer having pets. She's filled her quality dog-time quota. I watch Martha Stewart daily, and dream of being perfect.

Our electronic existence has supplanted authentic experience and person-to-person interaction. And thrill-seeking entertainment is sought out so that we can feel again. I knew a man who gambled heavily and frequently in Las Vegas, because he was exhilirated by the risk. I know a couple who tried to save their marriage by talking via email, instead of in person. I know kids who spend their summer skipping from Xcelerator coaster (82 mph in 2.3 seconds) to Superman: The Escape (climbs 415 feet, reaches 100 mph) to Supreme Scream (drop 254 feet straight down) and more, because reading and being home are too boring.

There has been a recent spate of "reality" shows in which families live back in time, to 1900 rural America or Colonial American times, to experience the novelty of life before the internet and video games, before malls and WalMart, before televison, cell phones and even radio. Before Las Vegas and Disneyland and hourly flights to Honolulu. Before MLB, the NBA and the NFL.

They get to know each other. They work hard. (They lose weight!) They eat meals together. They laugh together and they cry together. They seem to hug a lot.

I'm not advocating that we take a giant step back in time. Our modern conveniences and devices are true miracles. It's our use of them that causes the problems. They're just stuff. Over-reliance on them causes us to lose intimacy with others. Addiction to thrills numbs us to the pleasures of everyday life. Life feels flat and incomplete without them.

I know a family that has no televisions at all, but their teenage son has green hair and took a recent, exquisitely inappropriate moment to come out of the closet. He manufactures his own excitement. So much for preserving innocence by eliminating the small screen.

We need to get our priorities straight, though. We need to turn off the TV, walk away from the keyboard, put down the Gameboy, and spend time with our loved ones. Not ballpark or movie theater time. Real time, where we can talk and be heard, laugh and look each other in the eye. Much of our time, not a budgeted hour here and there. Every week. Every day.

Life again can then be joyful, intimate and satisfying, as God intended it.

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