“The artificial world lies and cheats. It seduces us with the worst of all lessons: that life is easy, and comfort is the goal. Thus it kills initiation at every turn. It cheats us of nourishment and strength and the very training we need. The answer is not only online filters. The answer is to choose a life where you prefer the Real over the artificial everywhere you possibly can. Reality was meant to shape us. The artificial is built almost entirely around our comfort and ease. Take back your soul. Re-engage the process of your initiation by choosing the Real everywhere you can.” John Eldredge
I read a blog post a few weeks ago called Choosing What Is Real by John Eldredge and have been revisiting it over and over ever since. Perhaps because it’s summertime, and I’m over the top about everyone getting the heck offline… it’s also because I am more nauseated than usual about the inter-webs and the ways in which we rely so heavily on them for identity and entertainment.
The idea that we not only spend most of our lives indoors behind a screen in an artificial world, but that we actually prefer it is so very disheartening. Anyone with kids understands this truth all too well. The ways in which games are being marketed towards getting them sucked into an artificial world is nothing short of evil marketing genius. If it’s not games, it’s the social apps that put everything on parade all day long. I’ve touched on it before, but I have an somewhat irrational aversion for most things YouTube related. I know there are interesting things to watch, but the amount of trash out there is mind-boggling. I know this because I have boys who watch really dumb stuff. You watch one video, and another automatically pops up, then another… before you know it, you’re sucked into some of the most absurd things you’ve ever witnessed.
To be clear, I’m not lamenting the good old days or wishing technology away. I’m not standing in my yard yelling at young kids to get off my lawn… not just yet. I’m saying that there’s something bigger at stake here, and it has to do with more than just safety filters.
I saw something yesterday that sent my mind into overdrive on this topic. There was a YouTube convention in which tens of thousands of teens showed up to see a certain famous online personality and get a picture with her. I had never heard of her, or any of them for that matter, but I’m fascinated about what draws the teens in, so I checked out her Instagram page. Turns out, she is no more than a vulgar, half-naked, barely legal in most states brat. She flaunts her body parts, her drugs, her mouth, and gets utterly nonsensical fights with other YouTube stars I’d never heard of. This is what passes for important to these kids. I experienced a level of disgust and wonder that I had not felt in some time. Otherwise lovely and smart young people are flocking to this stuff like it’s no big deal and I promise you, it’s slowly becoming the voice in their heads when it comes to their worldview. When you idolize someone else’s identity, you have no room to develop your own.
When Daniel and his friends were taken captive to Babylon, the king tried to get them to assimilate into their new culture. If he could get them to develop an appetite for the things of Babylon, they would be at his mercy. The thing is, too many of us have cultivated a voracious appetite for the artificial and it’s making us lose our sense (spiritual sense and common sense). We have to get back to desiring real stuff. When 20,000 kids show up at 6am to stand in a line to meet a rebellious smart a#%, they are searching for something. When they spend the entire day on their phones communicating with people they’ll never know, they are searching for something. Imagine for a second if they all stopped seeking the fake and instead went for the real thing.
Friends, young or not, our identity must be rooted in something besides a phony culture. If all technology fizzed-out tomorrow, would you still be you? If nobody was there to give you a thumbs up, would your habits or lifestyle change? That old saying about knowing whose you are so you can know who you are is true: without a deep understanding that we are children of God (Romans 8:16) we are destined to be slaves to an ever-darkening culture that will mold us and shape us but never ever satisfy us.
Our culture is aggressively seeking to assimilate us to it’s ever-changing values and ideas. Most of it is done through the artificial world of the internet and through people who have utterly sold their souls to do its bidding. We need real… people, experiences, moments. We are created for it. Though it isn’t always comfortable, it’s what pushes us forward and strengthens us. We have got to get our eyes off of ourselves and go join the real world.
I’ll end with a reminder from John Piper’s bestseller Don’t Waste Your Life:
“The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”
Christ offers a joy that can’t be bought. He gives us a satisfaction that ten million Instagram likes can’t begin to match.
Let’s stop being so pathological. Let’s go be real. 😉