Ethan, my first grandson, turned five years old last August. Like most five year olds he’s a combination of energy, inquisitiveness, joy, and occasional mischief. Leave him alone for ten minutes and you never know what’s going to be spilled, turned over, broken, or missing when you return. Experience has taught me it’s always a good idea to keep close watch on a five year old.
There’s another five year old that we might keep a close watch on. I’m referring to the iPod. This past Monday, the iPod turned 5. That’s right. It’s only been five years since the appearance of the ubiquitous machine that has now sold over 65 million units. It makes me feel very old to think that in my lifetime music listening has evolved from the radio, to the 45 rpm, to the album, to the 8-track (thankfully a short-lived era), to the cassette, to the CD, to digital music. I still remember the time one of my kids held up an LP and said, “Look, Mom! A big black CD!”
The benefits of the iPod are many and obvious. We can carry our entire music collection in the palm of our hand. We can listen to our favorite music whenever we like and not interrupt anyone else. Or we can play it through speakers at home, in our car, or at the office. We can download Podcasts and catch up on the latest news, sports, or sermon. I’ve actually encountered God in some significant ways as I’ve listened to messages while running. (See here and some of the comments below for more reasons the iPod is a gift of common grace from God.)
So what could be the problem? Well, it seems that any advance in technology carries with it inherent and unforeseen problems if it’s abused. Consider what the iPod has also made possible.
Rebellious teens used to retreat to their bedrooms to get away from everything. Now they can just slip on their headphones. I admit that when I’m studying in a coffee shop, I’ll often put on my in-ear phones to block out my surroundings. However, it’s not uncommon in social settings to see people tune in to their iPod and tune out their friends, family, parents, and the world in general.
You can now download just about any kind of music and image on to an iPod. In his report on iPod’s birthday, Al Mohler writes:
As the iPod has added video and photographs to its entertainment package, the technology becomes a potential platform for pornography as well as for operatic productions. Who knows what lurks in the iPod your teenager cradles like a life-saving device?
Kids no longer have CD cases or record cases lying around for their parents to find. So it’s no longer very difficult to listen to music their parents don’t approve of. It can all be hidden away on their iPod hard drive.
At one time listening to a song twice in a row meant moving the record arm over to the beginning of the song, or rewinding the cassette. Now we can listen to a song 5, 10, 50 times in a row. We can listen to the same CD repeatedly. Is it wise to listen to any music constantly? I’m not sure. I know it’s definitely unwise and potentially harmful to listen to some music repeatedly. (I elaborate on this point in a comment below).
Having control of the music we hear 24/7 can feed the mentality that we determine what happens in our lives. We NEVER have to listen to music we don’t like. The music we listen to becomes an extension of our identity. In some cases it IS our identity. Those who don’t like our music become those we don’t like.
As I’ve thought about how I want to use my iPod, I’ve come up with these thoughts:
- Only isolate yourself when you should be isolated. Don’t use your music to escape serving or interacting with others.
- Limit the amount of time you use your iPod. Silence is a profitable state that is fast becoming a relic of the past.
- Seek to listen to a broad spectrum of musical styles.
- Consider how to bless others through your music choices, rather than yourself.
And a few thoughts for parents:
- Make sure your kids know that owning an iPod, or any music storage device, is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be demanded.
- Set limits on usage for your kids. Help them keep track of how much music they’re actually listening to.
- Don’t allow the car to become a personal iPod refuge. Let kids use it for portions of long trips, but encourage conversation and interaction at other times.
- Know what’s on your child’s iPod. It’s usually what’s in their iTunes library. Check out lyrics, lifestyles, and websites of artists together.
- Listen to music as a family.
- If you’re musically gifted, put your iPods away for one evening a week, and make your own music together. You might be surprised how good you actually sound.
The iPod is like any five year old. It can bring great joy to your life, but it’s a good idea to keep a close watch on it.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil. 4:8).
“I know it’s definitely unwise and potentially harmful to listen to some music repeatedly.”
What makes you say that? Can you expand a bit?
“Consider what the iPod has also made possible”.
Indeed! I don’t have an iPod but a competitor from Creative Labs. What a blessing it has been! Since acquiring it I have listened to dozens (if not hundreds) of sermons. On it I have most of Mark Dever OT book sermons … much SG music … mp3s from WorshipGod06 … mp3s from T4G … even several sermons from some guy named Bob Kauflin! Use of the device allows me to redeem the time as I work out or perform chores about the house. Teens (and adults) will always find ways to entertain their base desires. MP3 players are one of them. But I count it a blessing!
Thank you so much for this posting. I now have a son (only 15 weeks)but I have been more aware of the things that I will need to start watching out for. My husband and I do not have an ipod and probably won’t have one. But like you said, technology continues to change and by the time my son is a teen who knows what will be available for him. Mainly, I liked your emphasis on listening to music as a family. My prayer is that as my husband and I teach and lead our children in their music choices they will begin to desire that music and their little hearts will be transformed by the gospel!
I’ve noticed the increased “retreat” posture among iPoders. Maybe I should use escape instead. (disclosure: I own two competitor models as well from Creative and Sandisk) I’ve noticed my own temptation to leave the plugs in when in crowded places or when running a quick errand as if quiet were a bad option. It used to be “weird” to walk around with earbuds in, isolated from the world. The coolness of the iPod has somewhat changed that, making it chic to be cut off.
Thanks for pointing to this as a potential problem for our families. I also thought of the obstacles it creates for the simple and everyday opportunities we have to share our faith. Many small encounters which could become open doors are missed as we remain “ituned” out. Time when we are circulating with our mission field shouldn’t be seen as times to isolate ourselves. As my Pastor has recently urged us, make the most of the days. Be ready and attentive. Bob, thanks for reminding me to make sure my media doesn’t isolate me from my mission.
Thanks for asking me to expand on my comment, “I know it’s definitely unwise and potentially harmful to listen to some music repeatedly.” I knew when I wrote it that I should say more, but the post was already too long.
At times repeated listening to music can draw out from us sinful desires that already exist within our hearts. For instance, a teenager who is angry at his parents may listen to a band whose music is agressive and whose lyrics are filled with hatred. Listening to that music in a store, for instance, won’t necessarily feed those desires. But repeated listening probably will. In like manner, if I’m fighting self-pity, listening a lot to slow, introspective music isn’t wise. Also, we carry associations with music. If certain songs or artists lead us to think of past sinful situations or desires, then it’s wrong to expose myself to repeated listenings. Finally, there’s always the danger of magnifying the gift over the Giver. I listen primarily to soundtracks, and have certain songs that are my “favorites.” However, I never want to think that the source of my joy or enjoyment is those songs. Spacing out my listening helps me remember that.
Having said that, I think someone can listen to music all day with discernment and godly intent and not be affected in the ways I’m describing. However, I don’t think many of us actually do that.
Thank you so much for this timely post, Bob!
I don’t own an iPod currently, but am hoping to get one sometime in the near future.
I think that your comments toward parents (even though I’m not one, yet) was on the mark as well. It is so important to know and talk to young people about what they are involved in, so they have help making godly decisions and living godly lives.
Bob, while I agree wholeheartedly with your cautions regarding isolationism or should I say, in my case, selfishness. I can’t help but comment on the benefits. I just left my friend Mark who is bedridden due to many complicated medical issues. He is also unable to read. Recently his small group got together and bought him an iPod. They loaded it with the ESV Bible. The change in my friend’s soul has been remarkable. He is more joyful in the midst of his trial and he is more amazed by grace than ever before. He would attribute the change to his ability to hear God’s word. As with any technology the dangers are many but in this case the benefits have been life changing. On behalf of my friend Mark, happy birthday iPod!
Thanks for the meaningful comment and the reminder of one more way we can glorify God with an iPod.
Berkely prof. Hubert Dreyfus wrote a book entitled “On The Internet” concerning some of the potential philosophical and sociological pitfalls of www. As the ipod is largely (and i’ve no doubt will become even more so w/ successive generations) an extension of e-commerce, it’s not surprising that he hits on several themes mentioned in this post. While I disagree with many of his conclusions, I believe it’s healthy to evaluate whether or not new technological advances are helping or hurting us in leading biblical lives.
That being said… man, this new 80gig 5g is cool! I transferred 11 gigs of wav files from the sound tech computer, took it home and dumped them onto my workstation at home in under 20 minutes total transfer time. Ok, maybe i’m a bit of a gadget head, but just typing that makes me a little misty.
re: repeated listening (cont.)
That’s interesting although perhaps quite a simplistic view of people’s reaction to music. If I listened to a piece of worship music repeatedly would i similarly find myself influenced but in a spiritual fashion? I feel there’s a lot more going on inside us and a god given ability to seperate emotion and action/reaction (to a dregree at least). Perhaps in the teenager the music is the only thing that seems to understand his/her struggle – doesn’t judge, demand or belittle. With introspective music i would say that perhaps it’s good to release our emotions though music – to allow us to cry. Personally, after a relationship breakup many years ago i listened constantly to two Pearl Jam songs and they allowed me to cry and helped me heal (they were on opposite sides of a piece of vinyl – the iPod did not invent repeat listening (-8 ) and now when i hear them it brings back floods of memories about the good things we shared. I don’t believe that our dreams, memories or imaginations will necessarily lead us into sin and music can bring such vivid colour to our busy minds.
I think there’s a danger of being too simplistic with these sorts of ideas and something which you may find personally challenging is not necessarily the same for everyone. Music doesn’t generate intent, although it can encourage, affirm, feed (if you like) but it’s an awful long way from wanting to burn your parents house down to actually doing it and i don’t feel that music would be the key factor. On the other hand meditating on the word of god, the repeated reading, listening, praying of scripture can produce lots of fruit – if your intention is to meet with god. That’s the power of god’s word :)
God has given us so many things to enjoy, music being one of the most extraordinary – teenagers learn this very quickly and along with your good advice for parents i would add that you should be interested in your kids music, share in it rather than monitor.
Thanks for the feedback. You make some great points which I totally agree with.
Especially appreciate your comment about parents listening to music along with their children. I tried to make that point in my encouragement to “listen to music as a famiily.” Excellent counsel.
I also affirm with you that “something which you may find personally challenging is not necessarily the same for everyone.” Amen.
It’s funny, but I don’t think anyone has ever said my thinking about music was simplistic! I think about this stuff all the time. My comments were couched in nuance – this “may” happen, “at times” this happens, “probably” will. I don’t believe music controls or governs our behavior, but can influence it in ways we might be unaware. Basically, I think that listening to music without discernment or godly intent reveals a heart willing to flirt with love for the world. Sounds like you’ve thought quite a bit about this area and wouldn’t be as susceptible as some to the effect of music.
I’d also agree that teenagers are often more unaware than adults of why they listen to music. It can be rooted in idolatry, a desire to be “cool,”, rebellion against parents, etc. Or they can be enjoying God’s creativity and beauty in the music they listen to. In any case, my point is that we should be examining how the music we listen affects our hearts and minds.
One more thing. Looking back on the post, I wish I had emphasized more of the positive aspects of being able to listen to so much music, so many sermons, and so much of God’s Word. Thanks for sharpening my thinking in these areas.
Hey, i appreciate the nuances and thanks for clarifying. :)
Just thinking about the teenager scenario – do you know of any music that could identify with the anger and rebellion but from a godly heart, something a bit more Lamentations or Eccesiasties based? Christian music (generalisation alert!) tends to have happy endings – is there room for some radical, Jesus inspired angst?
My husband is in the military, so we have to move every 2-3 years. Because of that, we are not always blessed to be able to attend a Sovereign Grace church in the cities that we live. Our iPod has been a means of grace in our lives! We are able to listen to the weekly sermons from our former church, Cornerstone Church of Knoxville, and sermons from many other S.G. churches daily because of the Podcasts that are offered. In a world where it is hard to find Biblically sound teaching, being able to be “fed” from some wise men and women in S.G. is a breath of fresh air for us! We are so thankful for the iPod, along with other technological devices, that allow us to further benefit from sound teaching and doctrine while we serve our country and our Savior!
Bob – thanks for the article and insights. Good stuff.
Robin – PluggedIn Online did a segment on just that in the context of metal recently (part of a six-part essay on the topic of heavy metal, actually). You can find the pertinent information here and here. Hopefully that will be of at least some use. :)
Oh, and on a similar note to Bob’s article, The Point hit the same topic today, with a post addressing that issue as well (in the latter part, anyway).
Robin, I hate to say it, but you may have to look back – way back – for good songs of lamentation. I’m sure someone has some good modern writers in mind, but hymns are full of such comfort in the presence of pain. Fortunately, there are some good places to turn. Both Indelible Grace and Red Mountain Music have recorded some great music that is rich with the acknowledgement of pain and the resonation of hope in Christ. I think of RMC’s rootsy Gadsby Projects – especially Help My Unbelief – and Indelible Grace’s folksy “I Asked the Lord.”
I’ve had my iPod for about 1.5 years and a week ago, the battery exerted its last stored drop of energy and turned off on my way to school.
That day was amazing to me because I hadn’t heard “nothing” ever since I got my iPod. Since then I’ve totally enjoyed listening to the noises that the world makes around me.
I have recharged my iPod since then but I feel so much less of a draw to be constantly plugged in. Good article and comments!