Next week, April 18-24, is both Screen-Free Week, and a week that is sacred for both Jews and Christians. This convergence presents a unique opportunity for members of those faith communities, as well as others who perceive spring as an appropriate time for renewal, to go on a “technology and media fast,” to the extent that one can, and look at whether media has an appropriate place in the life of the community and its households, with special attention to young children.
In an interview on The Healthy Media Choices Hour, Lance Strate, Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, touched on the need for a “Media Sabbath.” The group Sabbath Manifesto encourages and supports a weekly media fast. Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) provides resources for those who want to experience what being “unplugged” can bring them and their families.
One question is: to what extent can we “turn off?” What is necessary and what is simply habit?
Tremendous societal forces influence our habits. We are in a time when marketers talk about “the first five pillars of religious beliefs that could be applied to brand building” and Frito Lay has used Hillel the Elder’s revered saying: “If not now, when?” to sell Doritos. At the summit in 2010, some at a panel on media awareness in faith and humanist communities saw their congregations as too media-friendly, too ready to accept the premise that they must “go where the people are,” sidestepping the questions of conscience and the issues of human development that the American Academy of Pediatrics notes in its recommendations for limits. One example now is a church that is holding a “video contest for young people to promote interest in the sacrament of confession…The grassroots digital campaign, called i-confess.com, is soliciting videos of 30 to 60 seconds. The first-prize winner will receive $25,000 for himself or herself and $25,000 for their parish or school. Other cash prizes will be awarded.” This is not intended to single out that community out at all. This is just an example of what is going on in many places. It may even produce good effects. Making media is part of becoming aware of media tools and impact, but it is just one part
In Healthy Media Choices workshops, people say they are hungry for their families to be reminded to listen to conscience. There is a wish to step back from the technology “connection,” to see the difference between necessity and mechanical habit, and to discern how to use time intentionally so they can be centered and communicate better with others with whom we share the planet, and with the planet itself.
It is time for faith and humanist communities to take a step back, ask some basic media literacy questions, (especially about young children) and see where they wish to go, with or without technology, and what actions to take for education, witness, and advocacy. They are treasure troves of stories and resources – antidotes and alternatives to the elements in popular culture that undermine the spiritual well being of young children and their families. If questioning the pervasive influence of media and commercialism is not the work of communities in whom many entrust their highest aspirations, whose job is it?