Kids These Days – An Unmitigated Rant

28 Aug
It may be the crotchety old Luddite within, but I get dismayed every time I see a kid – eight, twelve, fourteen – out in the world (a restaurant, the park) and glued to the screen of an electronic device.  Happily disengaged preteen girls tapping away on smartphones, boys who can’t be away from a video game for more than ten minutes.  It isn’t the devices themselves – these are only tools and toys, whose use or misuse depends on the user (or the parents thereof).  But I feel there has been a cultural shift in our expectations, an inability to be satisfied in any way other than instantly, an addiction to endless external spheres of prefab experience.  I know, every generation laments the one proceeding it, claims that things just “aren’t what they used to be.”  Thing is, they really aren’t.  When I was a kid (yeah I know, I can’t believe I’m using that opening either), fun largely had to be created.  Or at least hunted down with purpose. This necessitated resourcefulness, imagination, and often a bit of mischief – all essential assets.  Active, rather than passive, diversion.

 

Don’t get me wrong, passive entertainment is also important, especially for inspiration.  Brilliant filmmakers wouldn’t exist without the legacy of media they grew up on, and writers (like I fancy myself) couldn’t write, wouldn’t even think to write, without the authors we love to read.  But ultimately entertainment is an act of feeding on the creativity of someone else.  This isn’t any kind of bad thing, until it replaces the individual act of creation.  I believe children are naturally-born scientists, artists, explorers.  They want to know everything, create everything, go everywhere.  And over time, these healthy impulses are deadened, by the demanding grip of “real” life, and by the deluge of external distractions that come from every direction.  There is so much rich experience waiting in our inner and outer worlds, and I think screens tend to encourage passivity, and should thus be used in some sort of moderation.  Screens separate.  That’s just their nature.

 

I promise I’m not really as old as I sound here.  I didn’t grow up on a farm or out on the wild frontier.  I’m largely a product of suburbia (with some urbia mixed in).  I had lots of video games, watched cartoons all afternoon, and in my teen years, devoured the internet.  But as fun as those modes of entertainment were, they had a temporary quality.  I’d play Super Nintendo for an hour or two, then life would go on elsewhere.  Because the Super Nintendo, and the television, and the internet, were stuck in place.  This may be a big part of the issue – ubiquity.  It removes the specialty of context, the singularity of each activity.  Sure, there are obvious advantages to having the internet at your fingertips at any given moment, or being able to give your kid a movie to watch while you’re stuck in the checkout line.  But we can’t deny that these slight changes have an eventual net impact on the intersect of society and its children.  I bet the longest time the average person spends away from a screen during their day is while they’re crossing the parking lot. What are we teaching?

 

Just to be clear, I like technology.  It isn’t always applied in the best way (profit potential tends to be the first motivation, followed by warfare) but it moves us as a civilization.  It keeps things interesting.  As fundamentally weird and creative animals, we always find unique ways of using technology, and our children will surely take that inspiration to create even more amazing innovations.  But (and there’s always a “but”, when you talk about humanity) it behooves us to be cognizant of the world we actively choose to create.  Civilization has been, in a way, one very long process of disconnection.  The screens we use to stay informed and entertained can serve to connect us to each other and to the wider world, but they also disconnect us from whatever is right in front of us.  Or perhaps, within us.  I guess the point of this rant is simply this: Balance.  It won’t kill your kid to turn her cell phone off during dinner.  It will benefit you both to learn how to really talk to your son on a car ride. We can wait until we get home to watch the new episode of our favorite “reality” t.v. show, rather than stare into tablets while the world is going on around us.  Because whatever the priests of our new techno-theology insist, that world of data and devices is not the real world.  It’s a fun, sometimes educational, often powerful realm of abstract experience to be used with moderation in between, rather than in place of, life.  All that said, I reckon it’s time for me to hit the “publish” button and get my ass outside.  Adios.

 
~

 

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2 Responses to “Kids These Days – An Unmitigated Rant”

  1. Daniel September 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I enjoyed this post. I feel it hits the nail on the head regarding our addiction to screens and entertainment. I fall victim to it from time to time, even though I try my best to avoid its peculiar lure. On the other hand, here we are, communicating through the internet, through blogs, disconnectedly connected. If it weren’t for these screens, I probably would never would have a chance to discuss this topic with you. By and large we’re slowly becoming dependent on the world happening outside our day to day life. I wish I knew why that was, but here I am, in the middle of it.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Apollo's Crow September 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

      Yup, truly the double-edged sword. Our technology creates tremendous potential for transference of information, connection with the world, etc. And I do think it’s good for kids to be engaged in new technology, so that they can later go on to build upon it. But at the same time, what’s the price? It’s worth exploring what kids, and all of us, might be losing with all that perpetual distraction.

      Meanwhile, I spent most of the day on the internet, procrastinating on a writing deadline. So it goes. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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