Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Children, and Adults, Should Be Allowed to Get Bored

A recent article on the BBC, Children Should Be Allowed to Get Bored, pointed out that children, and adults for that matter, should be allowed to get bored to develop creative abilities and self-reliance, and that constant stimulation limits the use of their imagination.

I can't say anything about raising children, other than having been a children raised by my parents. I have only my experience (and a thankfully brief stint as an adoptive parent) to judge by.

Fear of the Outdoors
Two things come to mind. Most children in our developed world are largely indoor children, kept in isolation by fearful parents and school administrators, fed by daily doses of lurid headlines, violent TeeVee and movies, and a steady diet of cacophonic computer input. Compared to the snug safety of the confines of home, the unstructured, untrammeled out of doors has little appeal, other than as a venue for organized sports and the regrettable necessity of walking from the house to the car.

The Necessity of Technology

One thing I learned in college, studying something called "Instructional Technology," is that technology creates its own necessity. Technological applications are invented for problems that don't yet exist. Technology is developed, marketed, sold, and consumed without thought for, or even the ability to contemplate, the unintended consequences of its adoption and ubiquitous presence in society. Who'd have thunk that the 80 pound "car phones" in the doctors' cars in the 70s would morph into the tiny pink plastic devices glued to the ears of every nubile young girl in malls across America?

The ubiquitous presence of cell phones quickly led to smart phones, tablets and other mini-computers, iPods and who knows what other electronic distractions that have become the norm rather than a remarkable exception. Plugged-in is the preferred state of the human being in this day and age, child or adult.

Compared to this onslaught of electronic stimulation, soon to be upgraded with "virtual reality glasses," the natural world bears little appeal. Why even go to a natural area when you can "see" and "hear" it from the comfort and safety of the home or mall? Why care about the preservation of natural areas, when we can "experience" them electronically without muddy feet, bug bites and danger from homeless people in the bushes?

Everything is Entertainment
As a museum curator, I witnessed the transition of museum management from conservation, preservation and presentation to entertainment. Every new  technology had to be employed to entertain the children and relieve the children's parents from their responsibilities to the charges, if just for a brief few moments of respite. Museums are becoming theme parks, where visitors are plugged in to canned tour guides and explanations, rarely encouraged to explore and discover on their own, experiencing a mediated version of the already limited museum experience. A simulacrum of a simulacrum.

And so life has become a mediated experience of a world bounded by fear, ignorance and superstition. The Dark Ages have returned in the full glare of media exposure.

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