And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
Historian Daniel Boorstin famously said, Our society is particularly ingenious at thinking up alternatives to the book.
Indeed Boorstin was right, and the latest ingenious alternative is the increasingly popular YouTube. What’s YouTube?you may ask. It is a website that allows users to upload their own videos for the world to see. YouTube.com was launched in February 2005. In October 2006 Google purchased the site, created in a garage near Silicon Valley, for a cool $1.65 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B!
Every day over 65,000 new videos appear on the website, and over 100 million YouTube videos are viewed daily. One technology buff with a pocket calculator estimates that, collectively, people have spent 9,305 years watching YouTube(That was in mid-October. By now we’ve surely passed the 10,000-year mark.)
Have you visited YouTube? You can find videos on almost anything. Car crashes, skateboard stunts, and clips from a concert by your favorite rock star are all there with a few clicks on your mouse. I’m not making this up. YouTube hosts dozens of videos that let the viewer see ice melting. And when a politician makes a verbal gaffe, anyone with a high-speed modem can enjoy the blunder. Did you miss the live news footage of the carnage on 9/11? YouTube. Wanna see some funny Japanese television commercials? Or how about a plane that almost crashes while landing in the wind? Or that football melee a few weeks ago in Miami? YouTube.
YouTube is here to stay, and it will have a lasting impact on our social discourse. This Web site makes a Michael Moore out of anyone with a video camera and a mean spirit. Catch your friend saying something dumb or falling down a flight of stairs, and YouTube will make him famous—until he is lost in the shuffle of 65,000 other videos uploaded the next day. Perhaps there are some legitimate uses for such a website, but YouTube is all about entertainment. It is about satisfying every appetite our eyes might have. It is a website for the bored. It is television without the commercials. Or, if you like, television that is, only commercials.
The preacher in Ecclesiastes (cited above) evidently watched YouTube. He denied nothing to his appetitive eyes. He saw all that the world had to offer, and this too was vanity. Culture critic Neil Postman charges that our society is at risk because of our devotion to entertainment. In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman writes, When a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk, culture death is a clear possibility.
The alternative to YouTube—and to its very close cousins television and video games— is the printed word. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with video entertainment, we have to ask What about the printed word? In a society laced with dazzling images, should we make time for reading? Should we turn off YouTube, our X-Box, and our HDTV to make room for a good book? Absolutely.
Reading trains us to use and appreciate one of God’s fundamental gifts to his children: the gift of language. College Board president Donald M. Stewart notes, The decline in SAT scores has a lot to do with not reading. The ability to read is linked to the ability to process, analyze, and comprehend information. I guess that’s called thinking. Reading requires that we sit still and interact with words. Reading is an activity that demands my attention and concentration. The reader becomes the judge of what is important and what is trivial, what is true and what is false. A reader uses his mind to evaluate the written word and to sift through ideas. As Jacques Ellul writes in his book The Humiliation of the Word, An individual can ask the question of truth and attempt to answer it only through language.
Reading trains us to think. Thinking does not play well on TV, writes Postman. 60 Minutes does our thinking for us. Here the viewer is presented with images that are designed to keep her watching…. A doctor continues his career in brain surgery even though he is dying of cancer. Commercial. A millionaire continues to embezzle money. Commercial. A man serves a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. Commercial. Andy Rooney is funny. Commercial. Stay tuned for . . . . Commercial. Time for bed. Spend the same two hours with Fyodor Dostoevsky, the apostle Paul, or even Dan Brown, and your mind will be working, thinking, pondering, imagining, evaluating. Boorstin calls the non-reader self-handicapped. . . . A person who doesn’t read books is only half-alive.
We should think of reading as a divine privilege. God has spoken (John 1:1-10), and his creatures continue to speak. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, All writing comes by the grace of God. We might add that reading allows us to appreciate God’s grace in every area of life. Reading need not be a chore. On the contrary, it is a gift. Edward Gibbon said, My early and invincible love of reading . . . I would not exchange for the treasures of India. Develop a love for reading and, sooner or later, you will probably concur with Logan Pearsall Smith: People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.