The New Media Explosion! (Part 2 – Content)

By Dick Rolfe – CEO, The Dove Foundation

In the previous installment, “New Media explosion: (Part 1 – Technology)” I focused on the ever-increasing technologies that are delivering entertainment content to us all whenever we want and wherever we are. The fact that these platforms provide unfettered access to content of all types poses a series of new dilemmas. Choosing among the scores of entertainment options available is like trying to drink water from a fire hose. How do we make wise choices given all the options?

Kids are by far the most prolific users of New Media because they have access to the latest delivery methods. This also makes them susceptible to the content being delivered. For example, the new iPhone4, and some new Android phones, offer a new feature called, FaceTime, which streams live video from one caller to another, in total privacy.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation American youngsters between ages 8 and 18 consume an average of 7 ½ hours of electronic media every day (TV, music, cell phones, video games, texting, non-school computer use).  On a typical school day, allowing 9 hours for sleep and 6 hours for school, that leaves 2 ½ hours for all other non-electronic activities like eating, sports and outdoor recreating, and face-to-face interacting with friends and family members.

I’m not as concerned with the number or variety of delivery systems available for entertainment as I am with the wide variety content these systems can deliver. The adage that “Content is King” applies here. There are many unintended consequences that accompany much of the programming these new technologies are capable of delivering to our proverbial doorsteps. Everything from kid flicks to kid porn is equally available on our personal computers or mobile devices.  Recently, some pretty unseemly content has been showing up on mainstream social networks like Facebook, YouTube and Craig’s List.

In addition to pornography, there are other issues that are cause for concern. Having so many options to choose from can be a wonderful thing, so long as the choices we make are informed choices consistent with our personal values. It is increasingly futile to ban our children from watching certain types of entertainment. Bans often result in titillation rather than instruction. A nearby Christian University replaced their blanket ban on movies with lessons in discernment. This, in my opinion, is the much better and more lasting method of imparting values to our youngsters. Teaching our children where the acceptable and unacceptable boundaries of behavior are also forces us to scrutinize our own values and make wise personal choices so we can lead by example.  A favorite poem of mine as a parent, and now a grandparent begins with the words, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”

Dove’s goal is to “encourage filmmakers to make clean movies and empower consumers to make wise choices.” Our job has become more complicated in this age of New Media; not because our standards have changed, but because we must apply them to so many new forms of entertainment.

The web, and especially the mobile smart phone industry, has fostered a new entertainment format called Webisodes.  These come in two forms; single stand-alone stories or brief episodes of longer stories like the Saturday Matinee Serials of the 1940’s.   Webisodes are particularly well-suited to the small screens of mobile devices like iPhones/iPods and Android devices.  At this time, Dove does not review Webisodes unless they are submitted by the producers. We focus on long-form media such as movies and DVDs.

I confess to be a subscriber of three New Media services; Netflix, Hulu and Roku, a set top box that delivers Netflix and all sorts of on-demand programming over my television set.  These three provide me with hundreds of movie or television programs, so I can choose exactly what fits my tastes and my time schedule.  (Lately, I’ve been watching episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Bob Newhart Show.”) The two key words here are taste and time. Both require self-examination and boundary-setting.

While looking over my movie choices, if I run across a title that I’m unfamiliar with, I can check out The Dove Foundation reviews at www.dove.org (time for a crass commercial message). Then, I know I’m making informed choices and avoiding any unsavory surprises.

One positive use of New Media is its recent adoption by many churches. Reaching the world by webcast is very cost effective and has the potential to reach millions of viewers.  My church now offers live streaming of our Sunday worship services, and our pastor has a weekly teaching via video podcast.

The bottom line is that choices have consequences. Making right choices is more complicated than it was in the past, but just as important! The news media have been full of stories recently where people, especially young people, have made unwise choices; and the consequences have been dire.  The old Sunday school song “Be careful little eyes what you see!” is just as relevant today as it was when it was originally penned decades ago.