Let me entertain you…

Image taken from HikingArtist's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

There has been a lot of social commentary on the idea that there are kids growing up in the developed world today who don’t know how to play.

Kids of varying ages spend hours each day staring at TV shows, computer games, social media, portable DVD players, and mobile phone screens. We get news stories of 2 years olds who unbeknown to their parents rack up huge app bills on iPads!

When left to their own devices, they just don’t know how to play in the old fashioned sense. They don’t know how to use their imagination to create stories and narrate their own imaginary world. They don’t know how to set up a game when other children are around to play with. When given a new toy it will hold their attention for a day or two, or a week at best. But they are not able to conceive of different ways to play with the same toy over and over again.

These kids become addicted to being entertained and unless a parent is willing to let them spend hours in front of various screens they are high maintenance kids, requiring an adult’s attention to create and guide them through activities to occupy them.

Kids need to learn to play for their natural development. For society it’s important that kids learn how to play also because the social and environmental cost of kids who can’t play is considerable. Internet, TV and social media addiction, a continual reliance on getting the latest toys to be entertained create social and environmental problems.

There is not a lot of attention given to the fact that many of us adults are suffering the same problems as our kids. We are addicted to being entertained and have lost the ability to entertain ourselves.

For many of us, the reality is the average working day is incredibly boring. Even if we’re not working on an assembly line, we sit at our desks all day, staring at screens, doing much the same thing day in day out. There are those of us fortunate enough to feel passionate about the work we do. Those who are left feeling ‘alive’ by our work, but for many of us we leave the office and seek some stimulation.

Tom Hodgkinson in his book ‘How to be Free’ talks about the problem of boredom today. Many of us seek a hit in consumerism. We work so we can buy. Buying the latest thing gives us some stimulation, but it also locks us into the pattern of having to work long hours in our boring jobs to pay for our latest stimulant. We also seek stimulation from all the screens around us. To quote Hodgkinson:

“Sometimes I think that life is becoming no more than staring at a screen. We stare at a screen all day at work. We stare at screens at the gym…Then we go home and stare at our computer screen before staring at the TV screen. For entertainment, we stare at cinema screens…Screens make us into passive receivers.” (How to be Free p.15)

When we are bored at home, we do what our children are doing, and turn to the screen as our solution. We want to be passively entertained. We don’t want to work to create or our own entertainment.

We get a ‘hit’ from finding out whether someone ‘likes’ our status, has clicked into our blog or retweeted what we’ve written. I’ll admit I do. When I’m bored I naturally gravitate to the computer. Others watch TV too, me not so much.

What Hodgkinson is encouraging us to do is to conquer our boredom through creativity. Modern life has sapped our creativity from us. We outsource our labour where we can afford it and we let screens entertain us.

The internet and TV are great. But they are addictive. They are great resources to use to relax and to engage with others but if we let ourselves they can consume our lives. By using them we have “delegated the relief of boredom; we have shirked our responsibility for dealing with it” (Hodgkinson p.24).

How can we expect our children to learn how to play, if we can’t model how to be active participants in relieving our own boredom?

A new addiction amongst many seems to be the gym and Zumba, and the Les Mills trilogy of ‘Attack, Pump and Balance’. Exercise is great and an important part of life to be sure, but are we falling into the trap of using it to relieve our boredom? The point is, we need to make sure our life is full and has meaning. Les Mills may make our body balanced, but not our life. Check out Nigel Marsh’s great TED talk on work life balance and some of his comments about going to the gym

We need to challenge ourselves to make and create – to be an active contributor to life.

We can learn to embrace household tasks and rise to the challenges they lay out for us. Learning how to fix things will not only challenge us creatively, it will be great for sustainability. Getting into the old arts of cooking and sewing, or learning a musical instrument are all options. So is writing a blog or a book.

It’s time to foster our own creativity.

I know it’s tempting to walk in the door and log straight on to Facebook. But I’m really going to try and foster my creative side.

Because I want my life to mean more than the number of internet hours I’ve clocked up.

I want to leave a real contribution.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/4657824028/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to HikingArtist.

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
This entry was posted in parenting, psychology, society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Let me entertain you…

  1. Ken Coulter says:

    An excellent post! Although I read it from a screen…

    You’ve hit the nail on the head – our children learn from us. If we live our lives vicariously, choosing to experience things by watching and reading instead of doing, then our children will follow in turn. That said, it’s difficult to villify technology in its entirety; after all, we’re using it to communicate ideas right now. But communicating ideas is one thing; acting on them is another. As you’ve said, we need to act more; and we need to teach our children to take an active part in life.

    But the siren song of electronic media is difficult to ignore. My five month old baby will stare at the television screen for long periods of time while we watch a movie; the flickering lights, the sounds, they captivate her…and us, obviously. It’s apparent the addiction begins at an early age.

    So how do we break away from this cycle of passivity? For me, the answer is clear – go to the woods. To spend even just a day in the wilderness, allowing my pace to synchronize with the rhythms of nature, is a very healing, grounding experience. More than that, it’s exhilarating; anyone who has spent time alone in a wild place for more than an hour can attest to just how much activity is going on. What at first seems like an empty space slowly comes alive in front of us. If you’re patient and pay attention, you’ll find there’s more drama, humour and action than any blockbuster hollywood movie could offer. What’s more, it’s REAL.

    And to me, that’s the most important point. The greatest danger to living life vicariously through the use of technology is that we miss our opportunity to truly connect with reality.

    Merriam Webster defines “vicarious” as “that which has been delegated”. Let’s not delegate our opportunity, our responsibility to connect and act. And let’s always remember to teach our children, through our actions, to connect with others, with nature, with life, in a real and meaningful way.

    • Thoreau had it right …. “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately”. Nature is so restorative to the soul and places us back in life, I agree. And spot on, technology is great, so wonderful for sharing ideas and discussion… but we ‘ve got to make sure we act – use the ideas and discussion and not just let it sit there alongside us!

  2. Pingback: It’s a pleasure | Greenleftyidealist

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