This is a part of a series of thoughts for my next book, Slow Schooling…And Other Thoughts on Rescuing Childhood.
The telephone rang early, before the alarm sounded. My husband’s voice was raspy and gruff, then urgent. I looked at him as he quickly rose.
“We’re being attacked,” he said, and left the room to turn on the TV.
We both stood agape at the screen. Airplanes were flying into buildings. First one, then the other. Newscasters were, for once, rightly barking updates. No one needed to whip viewers into a lather of shock–the event itself justified the horror on our faces. We were transfixed, quiet.
And then our 3-year-old padded in, sleep still slipping from her eyes. She stared at the screen, too.
“Mommy, what’s that?”
Words. Find words. Airplanes full of people. Daddies. Sisters. Babies. Crashing into buildings full of people. Tall towers falling down. People jumping to their deaths. Chaos. Death.
All I could muster was, “Something bad is happening…” And then I turned off the TV.
Years later in 2009, it was an easy decision to get rid of the picture box. The National Association of Broadcasters decided it was time to switch from analog to digital television, and President Obama required the federal government to help people transition with coupons for converter boxes. We found the whole ordeal greatly annoying, though we knew it was just a change in technology. We ignored it.
So our TV died.
It’s funny what we miss. When I was a child, I waited all year for “Frosty the Snowman” to play during the Christmas season. It was the same for any Charlie Brown specials. I would carefully read, slightly intoxicated by the ink, the flimsy TV guide, take note of the advertised annual showings, and mark the calendar. Then, after supper, my brother and I would wait for the show. When the opening trumpeted through the house, we would run and skid on the carpets to land on our bottoms, ready for the show.
Sunday evenings were similar. Tinkerbell would fly about the castle heralding the family friendly movie of the week, and we would gather together to watch. Mary Poppins, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In the background, my dad had the paper nearby, and my mom worked on needlepoint.
We were brought together to partake in shared laughter and suspense. But who watches anything together anymore? It isn’t necessary. And what becomes unnecessary becomes unneeded. The time together, I mean. The people. Not the TV.
For the past ten years, there have been more television sets in the average home than people. This is, presumably, so that you can go from room to room and not miss out on any part of a program. Nor do you have to negotiate which show to watch with anyone else. You don’t even have to stay home anymore to watch the talking pictures; they now fit in the palm of your hand. I find the most obnoxious places for TVs are in restaurants, where you can stare past your date’s head to watch The Facts of Life instead of engage in any sort of meaningful conversation.
Screens haven’t simply been problematic for time together; it’s been problematic for time alone as well. Childhood boredom is a lost art. Time that was once instrumental for daydreams, deep thinking and discovering new pursuits now disappear at the flick of a finger onto whatever has a screen attached. And the screen itself has become a drug that not only slowly kills the child’s imagination; the child–much like an addict–hotly defends his or her use, and most of the time with the blessing or inattention of Mom or Dad. But still…the black hole of the screen winds itself into hearts and minds, and robs the average child of 15 years of his or her life, simply for watching the average 4.7 hours of TV a day.
(…more to come…)