Our local cable company just added the Retro Channel to its lineup. I’ve been enjoying old television shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dragnet and even old news broadcasts featuring the late Walter Cronkite. Compared to today’s shows, the production value of these old programs is primitive. Technology has come a long way since the 1950s and 60s when television had simple stage sets, limited special effects, and news reports without live video.
I watched a few episodes of the Superman series from the late 1950s. Superman was the fastest thing around back then. He zoomed through the sky with supersonic velocity, faster than a speeding bullet, soaring past blurred images of the Empire State Building and other New York skyscrapers. When I saw him whooshing in front of those buildings, it reminded me of my life. My days are a blur. They go by so fast that I’m not aware of all the things in the background, the things that I pass along the way. I’m not alone. We’ve all become super men, women and children zooming through life at breakneck speed.
In the 50s and 60s, life was slower. There were fewer choices on television, and when you watched it, you weren’t multi-tasking. You watched with fixed attention. When you watched the nightly news, you understood that the images were real and the stories were the heart of someone’s life. You let it all soak in, and you thought about it for a while. You remembered.
When I was a kid, Mom and Dad often talked about Pearl Harbor. On the anniversaries of the attack, they remembered how horrendous it had been, and they reflected on the lives that were lost. Every year on Pearl Harbor Day, their generation remembered and relived where they were when it happened. Back then, in the age of propeller airplanes and steam ships, Pearl Harbor was an imagined faraway place in the South Pacific. There was no television to convey news about the attack. Special reports (“Bulletins,” they were called) came by radio. The images arrived as stills in newspapers or short newsreels in movie theaters. Yet, my parents’ generation remembered Pearl Harbor, year after year, as if it were yesterday. The death toll at Pearl Harbor was 2300. That was about the same number of people who died in Hurricane Katrina.
Pop quiz: On what date did Hurricane Katrina strike New Orleans?
These days, “big” news stories appear on television in a flash and quickly retire to the history books. There’s little time to let them soak in. Think about it. Almost 300,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. That’s about half the number of soldiers killed in the American Civil War. About 3,000 Americans died in the attacks on September 11, 2001. That’s similar to the number of people who died in the Protestant/Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland. Making these comparisons puts things in perspective. In the last decade we have lived through several “Pearl Harbors.” So why don’t we remember the dates like our parents remembered?
We watch major news events on TV (the tsunami, Katrina, 911) in real time as if we’re watching a movie with awesome special effects. After days, or maybe a week or two, of watching the same event, we’re ready to move on to something else. It’s a lot like watching a movie on DVD and then putting it away on a shelf. Our lives move fast, and we’re always looking for the next action adventure. I think, sometimes, we miss the reality and magnitude of current events. We get so caught up in the show that we don’t take time to be still and reflect.
I wonder how God feels about the pace of things here on Earth. I wonder what He thinks when we’re too busy to be still and when we put all of our business ahead of Him and His creation.
I think about the scripture verses in Mark 4:35-39 where Jesus calms the storm: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (NIV)
Technology through television brings fiction to life, and it allows us to see reality as it happens. That’s an awesome accomplishment and in many ways a blessing. But I think we need to be careful. With news events whizzing by on television, like Superman at record speed, we risk not seeing the buildings in the background and all the people and lives held inside. I wonder what would happen if God got up, rebuked the technological wind and waves and said, “Quiet! Be still!” What would we do if technology shut down and all of us were left with nothing to watch but the face of Almighty God?
Dear Heavenly Father, In this fast-paced age of computers, cell phones, and video games, I often have no time for you. Forgive me, please, and remind me to put you first in everything I do.