Even better than the real thing?

Have you ever seen an ant lion? These tiny fierce preditors make a pit in the sand where an unsuspecting ant falls to its demise. Poke it the right way with a stick and the ant lion flings sand up and creates a mini-avelanche. We were doing this at someone’s house and invited the 10 year old boy who lived there to join in the fun. “Why?,” he said on his way back inside, “I can just look it up online.”

A title of a talk at an upcoming Charlotte Mason conference caught my eye: Growing Up with Technology—Helping Children Resist the Seduction of Mediated Experience.

That phrase, mediated experience, is what struck me. There are things in between us and an experience that we mistake for an experience itself. We watch cooking shows and feel a sense of accomplishment. We, like the Pharisees, mistake knowledge about God for first-hand interaction with God.

Imagine a child who turns down a trip to pick fresh ripe strawberries because the artificially flavored strawberry-shaped candy in his backpack is good enough. Not only is the candy more convenient but by eating it constantly the child’s tastebuds come to prefer it over the real thing. The tummy gets what it wants but the heart is not fooled and remains unsatisfied.

Mediated experience, in this sense, is nothing new. But technology intensifies the temptation. Why go outside and wait for the ant lion to come out when one can watch it on a screen now?

Modern culture is built on the assumption that getting what we want—information, food, you name it—as fast as possible brings happiness. But it doesn’t. Everyone knows this deep down and simple observation shows it to be true.

And so what are we to do?

Don’t think me a Luddite wanting to return to the “good old days.” I’m not convinced the old days were that good. Genuine and lasting happiness in God is the end game here. And the Master shows us how to get there in Him: “self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself—your true self.”

A small part of self denial for us is limiting our kids screentime. This is a touchy subject where the Spirit has to lead. No law will do. We can’t be driven by fear of exposing them to the wrong thing or a desire to achieve some vintage ideal. The goal is freedom and joy. The simple fact is that excessive mediated experience makes most of us self-focused, irritable and unhappy.

So here’s to more ant lion poking and strawberry picking, Scripture play-acting and living room dancing, more fishing and sandcastles, more talking to God and less talking about him. Our hearts know Real when we see it and taste it and touch it. May we deny ourselves the quick thing to enter into the joy of the real thing.

One thought on “Even better than the real thing?

  1. Plato began this conversation so many years ago, setting the stage for Western philosophy. Your post highlights how disappointing life is for those who do not have contact with people, nature and the Creator. Who doesn’t feel sorry for the boy who looks up ant lions online?

    Picking strawberries can cure more maladies than any family counselor.

    Thanks, man.

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