by Mike Halpin —
The Industrial Revolution steamed into life with carbon-fueled smoke and mass production. Along with the benefits of efficient production, this revolution also unintentionally brought about the dissolution of the family as it had existed, pretty much from creation. Men left wives and children in early morning and returned tired and hungry at the end of each day, and time with wives and children became a limited commodity. Living conditions improved physically, but relationally the family became strained in new and challenging ways.
In more recent times these tensions have been noted and discussed broadly, especially the tension between earning a living away from the rest of the family and also having adequate time for healthy family relationships and formation. Wondering how much face time with growing children is enough? How much of our children’s education and formation can, or should, be delegated to others? Am I a bad parent if I work full time? Are we bad parents if we both work full time?
“Quality time” became a conscience-salving phrase in which parents spending far more time away from children than with them could console themselves. What their children lacked in quantity of time was more than compensated for by the outstanding quality of the times they did share, so the thinking went.
That means of managing guilt, or simply speaking to financial necessities in the lives of families, sounded helpful, at least initially. But time proved that bromide to be deficient more often than not. It’s become clearer over time that quality times occur unexpectedly during quantities of time. Quality was almost always an aspect, a derivative of, quantity. Quantity time made room for quality times to occur. It’s difficult to have purposefully spent time that is focused on our true priorities apart from having quantity time.
And quantity proves to be a foundational component of formative influence too. Who or what does your child spend the most time with? The significant quantity of time of that relationship guarantees a formative influence.
If quantity of time equates in some direct fashion to influence, who or what is influencing you? Where are our waking hours spent? In front of a television? In front of a computer screen? On social media? In the company of others?
What is the worldview implied, if not directly stated, in the venues I inhabit day after day? What are the values behind the interactions and conversations I view and listen in on?
Surveys of or including evangelical Millennials would strongly suggest that apart from nods to the Bible or Christian heritage, those who’ve grown up on social media are being shaped not by Scripture and Christian orthodoxy, but by their social media peers and those running the social media platforms. (Check out this dated but relevant article on Millennials and the Church regarding the attitude toward same-sex marriage; what sudden influence is responsible for this sea change of opinion, if not social media?)
Some of us by necessity spend quantities of time online; for work, school, or simply to keep up with what’s informing the lives of others. In my role as a staff elder, I spend regular, quantity time online reading articles and blogs, and trying to keep abreast of what’s impacting those in the Church.
But apart from online activity when we’re critically viewing information and consciously exercising discernment, how many hours a week am I online? More to the point of influence, how much time do I spend on social media platforms? Do I really think those hours are without any formative influence on what I value and how I think? (If you’re tempted to minimize the influence of social media specifically, watch the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, and you’ll be disabused of such naiveté.)
Do some quick arithmetic in your head: add up the hours per day you’re on social media, streaming online, and on television programming. (You’ll almost certainly estimate too low, but that’s okay.) How many estimated hours per day am I being influenced by others in those venues? How many hours per week?
Now, from another angle, how much time do I usually spend each day in God’s word? (Be generous in your own estimation, though you’re likely to guess too high; that’s okay.) How many hours in a week am I usually in church, or gathering with other Christians to worship, study, pray, on Sunday mornings or in small groups?
How does the quantity of time under the influence of online venues compare to the quantity of time spent with God in Scripture and prayer, plus the time I’m spending with other Christians?
If quantity reflects influence, who is influencing you? Who’s influencing your children?