There is a slowly growing body of teaching about media that is actually based in media, and I think this is a good thing.

The past few years have seen the release of many books on technology and Christianity (including my own), but the trouble is most of the people who need to hear their message aren’t really into, you know, reading books. That’s why videos like David Murray’s God’s Technology and Phillip Telfer’s Captivated (from MediaTalk101) are so important. They speak the language (i.e. use the medium) of the person who most needs to hear the message itself.

About the Film

Though his organization MediaTalk101, Telfer has been giving talks at churches about media consumption for several years, and now he’s made the move to create a feature length (1 hour, 45 minute) documentary with interviews from both secular thinkers on technology and culture (Mark Bauerline, Maggie Jackson) as well as various religious figures (David Murray, Ray Comfort, Kirby Anderson).

The documentary also features interviews with several teenagers (and a few adults) who, after years of struggling with overusing media, eventually gave up their chosen form (for a teen girl it was music obsession, for a grandmother it was playing FarmVille endlessly). Some gave it up voluntarily, some as a family exercise, and some through attendance at a camp for trouble youths called Shepherd’s Hill Academy where no iPods, cell phones, or computers are allowed and chores like horse grooming are encouraged.

The first half of the documentary focuses on the subtle effects of media saturation on things like multitasking, concentration, deep thinking, mental feedback loops. This section includes interviews with neuroscientists and cultural critics who discuss studies linking overuse of media to sleep problems, obesity, concentration, and ADHD.

About half way through, the film shifts focus from media to its content. Here Christian thinkers are featured more often, and they discuss our changing attitudes about sex and violence in movies and video games, strongly urging us to consider the link between what we ingest and what kind of people we become as a result. Personally, I found the first half of the video more compelling than the later half probably because it’s harder to argue with a nueroscientist on whether or not the brain can multitask than a pastor talking about R-rated movies.

Using Captivated

As I mentioned, I’m glad to see resources like Captivated coming out because it provides something that churches, parents, and pastors can use to being talking about media and technology with the people around them. Even if there were things I wish had been included or elements I personally would have left out, I think its usefulness as one of the very few video resources on the subject outweigh any criticisms I might offer.

That said, there are three things I’d like to point to if you’re considering using the video. First, at 1 hour and 45 minutes (plus bonus material) the film is fairly long, so you’ll probably only be able to show a few selected segments in a single sitting. But this is also a good thing because it means you have a lot of material to work with when you begin selecting segments.

The second thing worth mentioning is that unlike God’s Technology which spends some time addressing about the good side of technology as a gift from God, Captivated (in the usual style of a documentary) focuses almost exclusively on the negative impact of media. The film opens with questions about media that are framed strong either/or dichotomies and some of the speakers (like Mark Bauerline) are quite negative about social technology. On the other hand, there is a fun sequence at the beginning showing how the film itself could be spread via social media, and there are a few places where a person says something like, “We’re not just saying ‘no media,’ just use it in responsible and God-glorifying ways.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if the average viewer came away feeling like the overall tenor of the film was “no media.” So again, if you’re going to use the video you’ll need to supplement it with a more holistic view of technology and nuanced understanding of art and culture so that your group doesn’t come away thinking about these important matters in black and white, on and off terms.

A final point is that while the film does a good job of pointing out research on the unintended and problematic consequences of media, it doesn’t attempt to provide a lot of practical guidance on how the average person can balance the reality of technology as we go forward. The testimonies are generally of people who completely cut out FarmVille or iPods or Facebook, turning to some kind of outdoor activity, and feel much better as result. But it seems that many people are looking for practical wisdom on how they can discipline their media usage without completely shutting it off. This means you’ll need to talk to your group about ideas like the Tech Basket or Phone Stack to help them come away with a more concrete strategy they can implement in their own lives.