Are digital gadgets robbing us of our boredom?
In this age of endless digital gadgets, entertainment has become so unavoidable that boredom is beginning to look really good.
I have seen this coming as headline news on flat-screen TVs increasingly interrupts my boredom in hotel elevators, at gas pumps and in other formerly humdrum places.
Now the texting and video invasion is coming after our children and grandchildren.
Item: Disney has announced “the first Western for preschoolers,” titled “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West,” will debut exclusively on its 24-hour WatchDisneyJunior.com website and app, beginning Nov. 24 — and later come to TV.
As a member of the generation that had to rush home from grade school to watch the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in black-and-white, I am impressed.
So are companies that are seeking business opportunities. More than half of households with kids now own a tablet, says the Disney/ABC Television Group press release, compared to just over 40 percent in 2012.
Item: Disney’s stated target market of ages 2-to-7 looks like old-timers in a new study from the nonprofit research group Common Sense Media. It found that 38 percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, like an iPhone or tablet computer — an increase from 10 percent just two years ago.
Item: Not everyone is thrilled. A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its earlier recommendation that parents keep tablets, smartphones and other screens away from children under age 2 and prudently limit their screen time in the years after that.
Under age 2? There’s some advice I never expected to hear. But just as my son mimicked me by reaching for the TV remote and aiming it at the TV before he could walk or talk, today’s toddlers are increasingly tech savvy. One wonders, what next? Digital implants at birth? Robo-kids?
Enough, say some parents. Among today’s most prominent is comedian Louis C.K., born Louis Szekely. His five-minute rant against smartphone culture on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in September has received more than 5.7 million hits on YouTube. He appears to have struck a nerve.
“I think these things are toxic, especially for kids,” C.K. said, in explaining why he’ll never let his daughters have iPhones.
One problem that he sees is hijacking of empathy by incessant texting and tweeting in one’s formative years. “Y’know, kids are mean,” C.K. says, “and it’s ‘cause they’re trying it out.” Unfortunately they don’t see the hurt in the faces of those whom they insult by text. When they say “You’re fat,” for example, and see the other “kid’s face scrunch up,” they learn better, says C.K. “But when they write ‘you’re fat’, then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.’ “
Similar arguments are made by such other experts as Stanford sociologist Clifford Nass, who describes Twitter-age teens and tweens as suffering from “emotion atrophy” as a result of insufficient face-to-face “practice in observing and experiencing true emotions.”
C.K.’s rant shifts usefully from conventional Luddite bashing of new technology — and the dangerous idiocy of drivers who text behind the wheel — into an appreciation of a rare joy in this hectic age, the experience of being bored.
“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something,” he says. “That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person.”
A similar point is expanded upon by writer-researcher Evgeny Morozov in “Only Disconnect: Two Cheers for Boredom” in the Oct. 28 New Yorker. From a range of social critics over the past century, he resurrects the notion of “radical boredom,” an escape from modern hustle-bustle to “surrender oneself to one’s boredom on the sofa.”
Such moments, he observes are “inherently political, allowing us to … develop alternative explanations of our predicaments, and even to dare to dream of different futures.”
Perhaps. I do not recommend unsupervised boredom for teens, considering how often too much time on their hands can lead to mischief. But amid today’s endless information and entertainment flood, it does not hurt us to take time to look inside of ourselves and just think. Learning to live with silence is part of growing up, too.
Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.