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