Critical Thinking and Christian Character Education
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” ~Romans 12:2
Think. . . it’s counter-cultural
March 2017 – In 1970, the average American was exposed to 500 ads per day. Today that number has risen to over 5,000, according to Jay Walker-Smith, president of the marketing firm Yankelovich.
“This has had a huge impact on our behavior,” Phil Cooke (philcooke.com), a Christian film producer, told AFA Journal. “The result is massive changes to our behavior and the way we process information. Recent studies from the Wall Street Journal and others have revealed that when you meet someone for the first time, you decide what you think of them in under eight seconds.”
It goes beyond deciding whether to like a person or not. People today make many important decisions at breakneck speeds.
This makes perfect sense considering the number and methods of messages bombarding the average person. There isn’t enough time to thoughtfully consider what is important and what can be ignored. This can be good because it forces the development of a strong mental filter. But this strong, proficient, secure filter comes at a cost.
And for the believer, that cost can be a spiritual one.
Recognizing the 30-second culture
America recently underwent one of the most vitriolic and sensationalistic elections in living memory. Ten-year-old sound bites and broken sentences from leaked emails flooded news programs, radio shows, and social media feeds.
The dust from one scandal hardly settled before a new one exploded. Even in the presidential debates, there seemed to be more energy devoted to headlines, tweets, and sound bites than to issues.
A study released by the Media Insight Project (3/17/14) reveals how much thoughtful attention average news consumers actually devote to the details of news stories. The MIP is a platform of the Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center.
The study revealed that a third of the American population keeps up with news throughout the day (33%) and others prefer a dedicated time slot in the morning (24%) or evening (26%).
But no matter when they get their news, few details are considered. Only 41% reported watching, reading, or hearing any news story beyond the headlines in the last week. Additionally, nearly 60% said they read news headlines and nothing else.
Why it works
The 30-second culture exists because it works. Snappy headlines and catchy commercials are designed with one goal in mind: get attention.
A short video, image, or message can be powerful not because of the words contained in it, but because of the emotions generated by it. “The Influence of Implicit Attitudes on Consumer Choice when Confronted with Conflicting Product Attribute Information,” a paper by professors Melanie Dempsey (Ryerson University) and Andrew Mitchell (University of Toronto), shows that people often make irrational consumer choices based on conscious or subconscious manipulation through products, logos, or advertising.
In a telling experiment, participants were given a choice between two pens. Pen A was described as better in every way including its grip and the fact that it would not smear like Pen B. But before participants were allowed to make a choice, they had to watch a screen flashing images of Pen B and positive words. Over 70% of participants chose Pen B.
This illustrates why headlines and short news segments are so powerful, and why news consumers rarely seem to go beyond a surface understanding: the first few lines evoke strong emotions, and few people continue reading or listening after the initial feeling has dissipated. Most quickly click away from one news story looking for the next story and another high experience of emotion.
This desire for positive feelings from advertising and entertainment impacts consumers outside the realm of products and advertising.
According to statisticbrain.com, a website dedicated to compiling applicable statistics for everyday life, the average current attention span is at 8.25 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. To understand that in actionable terms, the website states 17% of Internet page views last less than 4 seconds, only 4% of page views last longer than 10 minutes, and people read only 28% of the articles they click on.
But all hope is not lost for the discipline of focus and attention.
Not all bad news
“It is hard, but we must become incredibly intentional,” Cooke said. Cooke is the author of several books, as well as executive producer of the movie Hillsong: Let Hope Rise. He is also producer of The Insanity of God, a movie based on the book of the same name by Nik Ripken.
“What that intentionality looks like from a practical standpoint is to make sure we are reading,” Cooke continued. “But not just reading whatever comes into sight. We have to be intentional about reading books of substance, long-form articles, and listening to lectures and sermons. We have to fight everything battling for our attention and do the work of focus.”
Others agree with Cooke. The number of physical books purchased has increased for two consecutive years according to Nielsen BookScan which tracks around 80% of print sales in America. Over 652 million physical books were sold during 2015.
Top Fifty Best-Selling Nonfiction Books In 2015 Were Adult Coloring Books.
Of that 652 million, more nonfiction than fiction books were purchased. While the gross numbers may seem encouraging, it must be noted that eight of the top fifty best-selling nonfiction books in 2015 were adult coloring books.
This is illustrative of the fact that people are hungry for a break from the constant messaging barraging their minds. Cooke said mindfulness is a trending word describing this desire.
“Mindfulness is becoming really popular today,” he said. “It means to take a second, breathe, and think thoroughly about what you are doing and where you are in life. In the Christian life, mindfulness can be carried over in a really powerful way. It used to be called meditating on Scripture or quiet time.”
John Piper, on his podcast Ask Pastor John, was recently asked why it is important to think deeply about God. He echoed Cooke’s comments by quoting Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Christians have always been called to be counter-cultural. One of the most important ways Christians can and should stand apart from the world today is in their ability to think systematically and thoroughly about an issue. That can come only from having their minds transformed by the power of the gospel.
Piper said, “If we are going to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, Paul assumes it comes through a renewed mind. And what minds do is think.”
Suggestions re: training yourself to think
▶ Read and meditate upon long passages of Scripture.
▶ Research a news story using several sources.
▶ Read a book or listen to a lecture about improving your mental focus.
▶ Recommended: John Piper’s Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. The book is available as a free ebook download or for purchase at desiringgod.org.