Friday, July 8, 2011

That Mesmerizing Screen

Isn’t it great to have so much knowledge at our fingertips? I was at my mom’s house over the weekend, and every time there was a question among the small group it was a race to see who would say, “Google it!” first. And you know what? We found most of the answers to our most obscure questions.

And of course there’s YouTube. YouTube is still so new that the red squiggly line tells me it’s a spelling miscue on this old computer. YouTube is only 6 years old, but there must be billions of videos on it. A while back I was showing my mom some things you can do on the internet and YouTube was one of the most amazing. She asked if we could find any with Caruso singing. He was an opera star from the early 1900’s. Sure enough there were a whole bunch of songs with photographs.

Research is such a snap with the internet now. Of course, instead of going to the library for a book or journal on a topic, instead of looking in an encyclopedia, you do an internet search. When I googled Caruso a few moments ago I got approximately 347,000 results in .14 seconds. Amazing.

And the games and entertainment on the computer are amazing. You could literally try for the rest of your life to sample the computer games on the internet and never scratch the surface. When I googled that I got 370,000,000 results in .13 seconds.

If you consider games with their own game systems, hand held video games, games on phones and ipads – one could game their life away. There are farm games, war games, racing games, games about stealing cars. Games about everything.

Now consider good, old-fashioned TV.

Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets: 66

Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6 hours, 47 minutes

Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66

Number of hours of TV watched annually by Americans: 250 billion

Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49

Check out these facts about children and TV.

Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680

Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV

and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54

Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours

Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500

Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000

Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000


Screens in our lives can be enriching. You are sitting in front of one right now (and I really appreciate it!). And I sat in front of one for about an hour writing this. But too much of a good thing is often a bad thing because screen time stops us from engaging in other, more active pastimes. I was talking to a relative the other day who said that he just doesn’t really like to be outside. At all. That’s scary to me because as we spend more time in front of screens we lose touch with reality. Screens are virtual. Outside? That’s reality.

A few days ago I was down at our beach/boat ramp. I was waiting up by the van along with a neighborhood dad and his son who were also waiting their turn to put their little fishing boat in the water. There is a house next to our recreation area. We could see their driveway and porch through some shrubs. As I approached the dad and his son were ducking behind their boat. They were looking over at a fire in the neighbor’s driveway. There was an aerosol can rolling around on the blacktop drive in a pool of flames. Dad was telling his son to keep his head down because the can was going to explode any second. Then four kids, maybe 17 or 18 showed up with a garden hose and put the fire out just in time.

That was stupid, I thought. What were they thinking? I am not particularly nosey, but the flaming aerosol can really did put us all in danger. So I kept watching to see what else was going on while I waited in line at the ramp. Then, to my horror, one of the boys picked up a dead snake out of the smoky mess on the driveway. He picked it up with a long stick. It was a king snake. A beauty. Glossy grayish black with pale rings three or four inches apart. It was about three feet long.

And the kids were laughing and screeching and having a good old time. They had fired up a spray can with a lighter and burned that king snake to death. And now they were laughing and celebrating their victory. I couldn’t help myself.

“What’s going on?” I said, as I trespassed through the bushes onto their driveway. I startled them and they sort of jumped (“monkeyed” my old friend Michelle would have said).

“That poisonous snake was going to attack me!” said the biggest boy. He was about my son Colin’s age. He dropped the snake off the stick. I walked over to it and hunkered down to look. It was dead all right. Its head was charred; it’s beautiful body limp and coiled.

“This is just sad,” I said. “Pathetic. And it wasn’t venomous.”

“Whatever, dude. It was fixin’ to attack.”

“Right,” I said, and walked back through their bushes to the boat ramp. The young dad was on one knee telling his seven-or-eight year old boy that snakes would never just attack you. Like most wild animals, they will do almost anything to get away from humans. He told his kid that those teenagers were just wrong to kill that snake. That snakes have just as much right to be here as we do.

That little scene haunts me. Four young adults got their kicks from watching an animal squirm in pain and then die a horrible death. They just don’t know, I suppose. They simply don’t understand how incredibly beautiful that animal was. How perfectly it fits into our woods, into the big scheme of things. Their understanding of snakes come from TV or movies where all snakes are evil and out to kill humans. Their understanding of snakes came from screens. I thought to myself that that little boy is being raised right. He is outside on a sunny day going fishing with his daddy who is teaching him to respect nature, not fear it.

It reminded me of Devin, our 19 year old, who spent almost all of his summer days when he was about 11 or 12 looking for snakes. He’d catch one, look at it, appreciate it, and release it. You see, he does understand.

I wrote this little piece in writing workshop a few years ago after a classroom discussion with my second graders about how much TV kids watch. I guess it is normal to fear what we don’t understand. But how can people understand nature if they don’t get outdoors?

That mesmerizing screen

It steals away the time

Young children watching endlessly

Not learning how to climb

Not running in the sunshine

Not writing down a rhyme

No talking with their neighbors

After school ‘til bedtime

No baseball or jump rope

Not enjoying springtime

Screen’s on in the kitchen

Even at mealtime

Screen’s on in the car

Never any downtime

No time for reading

Not a real big time

No time for real adventures

That would be like work time

Not much time for the real world

That can only be part time

Because of that mesmerizing screen


MLucas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott and Malisa Johnson said...

Scott and I have this conversation all the time. When we were little it was the T.V. that my parents battled with rules and regulations. But for our house its the T.V. computer, iPod, and Nintendo DS. Far too many screens.

What also worries me is the lack of face to face communication. I went to dinner the other night with a friend and we noticed a married couple in the restaurant who were texting other people through out the entire meal. There are conversations that I'm sure Scott and I will have to have with our kids, in addition to the screen time conversation.

The snake story makes me so sad. My spine shivered when I read that part. I'm glad you said something, even though it seems like they weren't very thoughtful.

Chris Hass said...

Reminds me of Chris Van Allsburg's The Wretched Stone. Our kids here at home come in just below a quarter of the screen time averages you mentioned. However, I'd be afraid to know how they'd answer to a question where they had to choose between spending time watching television or time spent with me. Limiting television works both ways - the more we withhold the more they want it. During the school year we allow them two hours a day on weekends. During summer they get about the same two hours, but everyday. I sometimes miss the days of not having a television.

Regarding the snake, a few years ago Harper and I were out on a bike ride and came across some of the ground maintenance guys trying to kill a black snake in the middle of the road. It was simply trying to cross the road. Alarmed, they ran over it numerous times and tried to cut it's head off. We stood and watched in horror. Had they left it alone it would have been back into the high grasses within minutes. I wasn't so bold as you, though. I didn't say anything.

My blog is all messed up now for some reason. It erases comments and shows up on your blog as though I haven't updated in a couple of months. I don't know what's up.

Meesh Hays said...

The biggest problem we have at my house is that TV is a family value - it pays the bills, what with the hub having worked for local affiliates his entire career. It was pretty sexy when we were in college and he interned at UNC Public TV - I mean, the set of the Woodwright's Shoppe is pretty freakin' cool - but then he got into good old fashioned local news. Ugh.

We've never really limited screen time like the AAP recommends or like common sense dictates, but our kids seem to be turning out okay. They still like to play board games with us and they read for pleasure (unless they HAVE to read, in which case...), and they enjoy being outside. But I wish we didn't have so darned much available to us to settle for - another bit of channel or site surfing here, another bit there begins to add up to What-the-Heck-Happened-To-My-Summer/Afternoon/Weekend before long. I really wish I didn't have so many stories on TV that I enjoy. I especially wish my beloved didn't! I am guessing, though, that my kids, if asked, would say they'd rather watch tv than play with dad, but I bet their actions would speak more loudly than those cool words if their dad (or more dads) were to turn off the tv and say, "Let's play!" THAT's the hard part - changing adult habits.

But meanwhile, if any of you should ever get a Nielsen book, tell them you NEVER miss WIS News. Ever.:)

Emily Whitecotton said...

"Their understanding of snakes come from TV or movies where all snakes are evil and out to kill humans."

This part really got me thinking about how we learn things and framing. I guess it is why observation and personal reflection are so important. When we hear about things from someone else's point of view without taking into account that it is from someone else's point of view, opinions (or bad snake experiences) become facts all too easily. Screens even make it look like it is your own personal point of view, but it is all framed by someone else. I do well to remember this, forget trying to help a kid understand and live that kind of mindfulness.

I remember taking a class with Rudy Mancke in college. For this class we would take a field trip every week to a different naturey place in the state. It was such a fantastic experience, mostly because it was real. We got to be immersed in nature and see it for ourselves. For the most part, we would just walk around, identify things, and talk about what we noticed. Rudy would often say (something to the effect of) animals are predictable, it is the humans who aren't. After that class and spending some time around humans, I tend to agree.

Mamafamilias said...

I had the cable TV cut off a few months back, and our TVs date back to the analog (I think that's right) variety and we didn't get the little black box when everything was switching over because we had cable at the time. so now, we have no TV stations at all (although the husband does manage to watch DVDs, so he's still watching something). I don't miss the TV at all. Although, if my computer were taken away........