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In Bowling Alone (Touchstone), Robert D. Putnam says that adults are spending less time with friends and neighbors and more time alone with media. Why go to a noisy and perhaps expensive bowling alley when you can bowl on your Wii—even without a partner? Why talk with your kids in the car when you can keep them quiet with a portable DVD player in the back seat?

Using media privately is age-old. Since the fourth century, most Western adults have read books silently. Drama remained public, but reading became primarily personal and private except in religious services.

The first person I saw reading on a Kindle was a 75-ish man eating lunch alone at a busy restaurant. Soon the Kindle, iPad, and similar devices will offer e-book readers one-click access to video interviews with authors, movie versions of the book, blogs about the book, and more. Would that reader care?

Seeing a movie was once a public activity. So was early television—like today’s sports bars. Then TV became a home entertainment device for private family viewing. By the 1980s, most homes had multiple sets so family members could watch individually. A recent Dutch survey found that adults prefer viewing television either alone or with someone who does not comment on the program.

Dutch men said they prefer watching sports programs alone.

Nevertheless, the growth of “home theaters” is reviving communal viewing by families and friends. Early adopters proudly invite others to their homes for special TV and movie showings. Video gaming also gets people together.

The real news today is pocket devices that promote personal viewing. At a doctor’s office I saw a teenager wearing ear buds and watching YouTube videos on his phone. I listened to his chuckles. Airline travelers commonly watch movies on their iPods, computers, or DVD players. Who cares about the airline-scheduled movie when you have your own portable movie theater?

Will we all end up wired to media centers, happily oblivious to others in the same room? Hardly. God made us social creatures with strong desires to share our lives with friends and family. Yet we have to use new media intentionally for our shared lives or we might discover that we are becoming media rich and relationally poor.

The Lowdown

Mission Minded: James C. Schaap offers stories and photos from the rich history of Rehoboth Christian School in the new book Rehoboth: A Place for Us. (Faith Alive)

Here Oar There: Looking for a nearby launch site for your kayak or canoe? Check out the launch map at

Goth Girl: If you’re in need of a dose of brooding men and misty moors, the newest film version of Jane Eyre is due in theaters this month. (Focus Features)

BookTube? Publishers looking for buzz for their titles are putting out book trailers. Now readers have joined the movement. Check on YouTube for creative “fanmade” trailers for popular novels, including The Book Thief, The Hunger Games, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

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