Back in the “ancient” times of computers (AKA, before the Internet started invading peoples’ lives in the mid-1990s), there was an acronym that computer programmers and data analysts liked to throw about quite a bit: GIGO. It stood for “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”
Simply put, if you typed in bad input or data into a computer, you would get bad output. For instance, if you didn’t quite know where to insert the correct code in a program or place the wrong type of stuff into a database, you might encounter errors. Or if you try to open a binary file like a JPG image in a text editor such as Notepad, it may display thousands of rows of unreadable gobbledygook that makes zero sense.
As with many other terms that are coined in our language, it can certainly be applied to many other facets of our culture. It basically equates to, “well, what else would you expect? If you’re going to put in [garbage], then the final result will be crap.”
The GIGO of Our Lives
Back in 1991, the rock group Living Colour lamented the barrage of output from radio, 50+ channels of cable TV which ran 24/7, and the widening influence of an uncountable number of magazines and newspapers in their song, “Information Overload.” Well, the amount of media information that the average person over 25 years ago was exposed to has nothing on us in this digital age!
As we crest upon the 2020s, we as consumers in Western society are completely flooded in an ocean of digital messaging noise. It is sensory strain to the Nth degree. According to Forbes, as of 2017, the typical American is exposed to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements per day!
Overall general screen time is astronomically high. The average US adult in 2019 spends 3 hours, 43 minutes per day on mobile devices, just above the daily 3 hours and 35 minutes spent on TV (source: (https://www.emarketer.com/content/average-us-time-spent-with-mobile-in-2019-has-increased).
As startling as these stats may be to some people, I personally thought they should be higher. Many North American homes will have the TV turned on from the time the first family members get home until the time we head off to bed. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that we have become a world of smartphone zombies, with us constantly looking down at our smart screens every single chance we get – at the stoplights, when we’re waiting in line at the store, when we are on the toilet, and in every other conceivable spare second of our lives when we feel like we might “miss out” if we don’t get our constant metaphorical IV drip of a dopamine rush from connecting to the online world.
The sad thing about all of this is that the vast majority is distracting us from accomplishing God’s mission for us as soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We willingly put into our brains and hearts nonstop garbage and noise of TV and the media, while in contrast, our Savior often went off to quiet, solitary places to pray to God the Father (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:15-16). We spend untold hours per week looking at the venomous sewage of our social media feeds when instead we could be getting fed the rich, soul-nourishing power of God’s Word.
You can take one of the phenomenons of the 2010s – binge-watching TV series – and how long we spend doing that, and then discover that we can easily read many of the individual books of the Bible in less than an hour. For example, in the time it takes to binge-watch Seasons One & Two of Stranger Things on Netflix (14 hours and 10 minutes, according to BingeClock.com), we can cover some of the most popular books of the Scripture (Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospel of John, and Romans) in less time (13 hours and 15 minutes) and learn a good chunk of Biblical history, prayers and songs, the greatest collection of wisdom ever put together, the life of Jesus Christ, and a lengthy explanation of God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus.
Those numbers can be shocking, but they can soberly display where the priorities of many of us lie in this world.
Or how about this fact? A whopping 88% of American households own a Bible, yet many have never cracked one open to learn the above things. (We challenge you to jump in and start reading!) If you spend just 12-15 minutes a day, you can easily read through the Bible in one year’s time. Or imagine if you would double or triple that daily time in the Good Book…your spiritual growth – if you choose to let God’s Word change you – could grow off the charts!
But can you still view secular entertainment and social media; and if you can, how much can you still imbibe? Read on…
The Freedom to Choose, But Choose Well
The Corinthian church in the time of the New Testament was a big trouble spot for the Apostle Paul. The two letters that he wrote to Corinth that appear in the Bible spotlight all kinds of issues, including a sexual scandal, divisions in the church, and squabbles about spiritual gifts, just to name a few. One of the main overarching causes of all of this was sin and worldliness, and the Corinthian Christians’ bull-headed resistance to give it up for a life of holiness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the First Letter to the Corinthians, in-between passages about lawsuits among believers and sexual immorality, Paul answers some of the objections raised by some of the believers from the small Greek town:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12, [NIV]
So we who are born-again in Christ and live in the Spirit have freedom. Galatians 6:13a states, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” [NIV] Just because we are technically able to do something, doesn’t mean that it’s beneficial for us; or explain it a little deeper, we should ask ourselves (and pray to God) to see if it is good for our spiritual growth and development. If it doesn’t cause us to move forward, it’s probably best to abandon it. Plus, many activities can be “okay” to do, but by no means should they consume our time, our mission, and our focus on Christ. It could very easily become our master. This treads on dangerous waters because Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters…”
Are all secular entertainment, media, and social networking sites wrong and unhealthy? We know that a great deal of that dominates them is detrimental to your spiritual walk with the Lord. Yet I cannot stand here and tell you that 100% of it is “bad, bad, bad!” while wagging our index fingers at you. We as Christians shouldn’t fall into traps of legalism and hyper-nit-pickiness when it comes to choosing what secular entertainment and media in which to partake and to what we let our families become exposed. No book of the Bible has a handy checklist of all of the appropriate Instagram videos, movies, TV shows, Netflix series, video games, sports games, YouTube channels, and more that are “God-approved” and which are not.
Therefore, we should execute wise discernment and judgment as to what we allow our eyeballs and ears to digest throughout the day. We have freedom, but if we submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit, we in that freedom will want to choose well by doing things that honor God. It is ultimately up to you to prayerfully seek God and seek His guidance on how much worldly music, social media, TV shows, and movies in which you should partake.
The bottom line is that we need to spend more time with God. Remember that Christianity is a relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, and by far the most important relationship you will ever have. If you aren’t putting in time in prayer and His Word, and instead are feeding yourself a steady diet of garbage, your life will start to produce garbage. If we feed ourselves a quality diet of Scripture and quiet time with God in prayer while having a humble heart before Him, then a true move of God will start to take place!