Monday, September 09, 2002

Thought of the Day: media vs. reality: is there virtue in mediated experience?
I'll be working from home now, contributing stories to the Tribune, in between my summer internship and my next full-time reporting job. So my life will be increasingly a mediated one; my day will be all the more composed reading newspapers and magazines, scanning Internet sites, reluctantly watching some TV news, spending time on e-mail, here in my apartment or at the bookstore across the street. The question is, how unhealthy is this? On the one hand, it's great to read, to be aware of the larger world, to put your little life in the larger context media provides, to bulk up the mind. Too many people float through life with narrow worldviews, deliberately oblivious to the larger cultural dynamics that shape their personal narratives.

On the other, I must constantly pinch myself and remember that media is not reality--it's a necessarily distorted view of reailty, a certain filter of the world. If you've ever read an article or seen a TV report about a person you knew or event you witnessed, you no doubt came away thinking, what a slim vision and incomplete picture (maybe even misleading) that was. Reality as we directly experience it is deeper, richer, nuanced, and whole. What we experience through media is limited and somehow skewed. It's the difference between running through a sprinkler and going swimming.

I sheepishly admit, though, that part of me feels more inclined to live in a mediated world sometimes. I love the experience of letting a movie screen, magazine photo,or newspaper article connect me to other places, other people, other ideas. My personal theory is that this is more true of introverts than extroverts, and I have a little more of the former in me. Again, it's not all bad--a well-written article by a wise writer can help you see and think about things you wouldn't otherwise. And there's a safety element: I live about a mile down the street from Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects. Last year I toured them with a student group, and someone threw eggs at us from their window. So I don't mind reading about the area in books for the time being (though here the media picture on television is especially poisonous--Cabrini is unfairly shown as a latter-day Lord-of-the-Flies inhabited by savages). (my essay on my Cabrini walk)

This last point pricks me. Christ never settled for media. He was about people. Granted, there was unimaginably less media when he was on earth, but he wore out his sandals and his stamina by walking all over his country, meeting people, reaching out, looking at them as only God can. I can't imagine him sitting in a high-rise apartment on the Internet all morning. I know have a personality and cerebrum geared more toward reading and writing than ministering to people, and I know that's not inherently bad, but I need to keep looking beyond the mediated world and trying to see reality as Christ, not CNN would see it.

Footnote: At Calvin we spent a lot of time talking about worldview, or forming a framework for viewing nature and society, and with good reason--anti-intellectual evangelicals and spiritually aimless Americans all lack grounding in a larger reality, a bigger picture in which to view their lives. But one criticism of the word "worldview" I heard from a British theologian is that it is a very detaching word--it positions you at a distance from reality, or above it, peering over, making broad judgments with superhuman scope. Thus it goes against personal engagement with the world around you. I disagree; a worldview anchors, inspires, and guides your engagement with the world around you. But I get his point, which is one of the primary frustrations I have with the world I left behind in West Michigan--there are fine people with fine minds in that world, but their ivory tower tendencies impair their ability and desire to roll up their sleeves and engage the world with personal passion. As I am increasingly drawn to the academic world of writing and ideas, I must watch out for this pitfall.
Previous Thought
Earlier Thought: Would we be better off if everyone went to college?
Earlier Thought: Would we be better off if everyone voted?

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