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Missing the Messages of the Media

Gregory Edward Reynolds

God's Technology: Training Our Children to Use Technology to God's Glory, by David Murray. Grand Rapids: Head Heart Hand Media, ND. DVD, 40 min.

Professor Murray teaches Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The seminary is governed by the Heritage Reformed Congregation (Netherlands Reformed Churches) and Free Reformed Churches. The DVD is produced by Head Heart Hand Media, which seems to be connected to Reformation Heritage Books, although there is little identification on the DVD or its package. The stated purpose of this DVD is highly commendable, "God's Technology is ideal for families, schools, and churches that want to train their children to use God's good gift of technology in a God-glorifying way." Sound theology clearly undergirds the effort at every point.

The structure of the presentation reminded me of a Bill Gothard seminar: four biblical principles, three possible responses to digital technology, and seven steps to teach children to develop disciplined discernment in using digital technology. Murray seeks to make practical advice clear and memorable for parents.

While the term "common grace" is not used it is clear from the four biblical principles and three responses to technology that Murray understands technology to be a gift of God to be used with "discerning discipline." There is much moral and practical advice to help parents guide and teach their children the responsible use of electronic communication technologies, including technical advice about antivirus software, firewalls, time limits, and filters. Murray wisely warns that "digital supervision" (software filters) is not enough. Building trust and discernment through parental mentoring is essential in discipling children to use the Internet prudently.

The DVD concludes with an application of the seven steps to the use of social networks. Here, again, there is much sound advice that will be very helpful to parents. But it is at just this point that the greatest weakness of this DVD becomes evident. There is no critique of the media themselves—their benefits and liabilities, the ways they change our perceptions and relationships, which are inherent in their nature as creations, or extensions, of man. This part of the presentation is a borrowed segment, reporting the pervasive and lasting presence of social media, and promoting the necessity of simply accepting this. This is supposedly an answer to those who say that Facebook and its ilk are just a fad. Although we are told that 96% of millennials use social networks, the ways in which digital technologies change us and our world are never explored. Of special importance to the task of parenting is the way in which access to information alters social structures. For example, Neil Postman deals with the way television has radically altered childhood in The Disappearance of Childhood.[1]

Part of Murray's advice at this point is for parents to join Facebook. Fortunately, he emphasizes the priority of face-to-face friendships, but never explores the ways that Facebook as a medium may inhibit or undermine such relations, apart from the time factor. Furthermore, the possibility of opting out is never mentioned. The lack of media consciousness weakens the appeal of this DVD. Media ecology—stewardship—would go a long way to enhance the kind of essentially sound advice Murray gives. He gets it half right, but misses the message of the medium, thus diminishing the development of the navigational abilities of his students.

The videography of this production is not very appealing. Many of the elements used appear to be "video clip art." Most of the "action" shows a parent (Mr. Murray) hovering over a child in front of a computer screen. The presence of text is very similar to PowerPoint, but when the text disappears the blank white spot making up half of the screen, remains with the action taking place to the left of the screen. The background music is a strange electronic mix almost like a digital version of "elevator music" known as Muzak.

Overall, I would recommend this DVD, but I would give it to members of my congregation with a copy of The Disappearance of Childhood. I only wish a single book or DVD by a Christian parent could provide the whole package in a popular style.

Endnote

[1]Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (London: Allen, 1983). Situational sociologist Erving Goffman explored this concept in his ground-breaking work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Anchor Books, 1959). Goffman provided Joshua Meyrowitz with the conceptual link between McLuhan's "medium theory" and culture and behavior in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, December 2010.

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