While watching a few movies in the past few weeks I’ve noticed a similar ad. It’s for the “digital copy” that is now included with most DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s. They advertise how you can upload this to your computer, then transfer it to your phone, or other portable device. They then go on to illustrate how this can “benefit” you in your life. They picture people watching movies on their laptops, then change the setting to watching the same movie on their laptop in a coffee house, then in a park, finally in a library. They ad goes on to show a child using a smart phone to watch the same movie while in a shopping cart in a grocery store, while at the playground, riding in a car, and finally a shot of a smiling teenager sitting on the bench at a basketball court, watching a movie while kids play behind him.
Am I the only one who is getting scared? Am I the only one who was given a limit on the number of hours of television I could watch per week growing up? Am I the only one who isn’t allowing my kids to be glued to media 24/7? It’s not just movies of course. We can access Youtube, TV shows, news, facebook, media, media, media. We’re never unplugged. I spent 9 hours per day at work in front of a computer. I then come home and will usually spend another hour on a computer blogging, and recording music. Almost half of every day that I’ve lived in the last decade has been spent staring at a screen. Another quarter is spent unconscious. That means that I can expect to have REALLY lived less than one fourth of my entire life by the time I’m dead, if I’m lucky. that really scares me.
Of course I, like most people who complain, am doing nothing to change the majority of this. The truth is that I can’t think of another job that I could do that wouldn’t involve me staring at a screen all day. I have a limited set of skills, and those skills place me in front of the flickering box in one setting or another. I am able to limit the time spent there while at home. I’ve tried my best to do this in the last year or so. I try to only use a computer at home to create. That may be blogging here, or one of my other two blogs that I keep, or making music as I mentioned before. Of course I stray from the path, and do get on Facebook about once a week, and I found time to watch the “Double Rainbow” video about a year after it was cool.
What really worries me though is how much time we are willingly planting our kids in front of a screen. In my daughter’s lifetime we have never had television service in our house. We have a TV, we have a DVD player, and have finally just jumped on the Blu-Ray wagon, but she has never had cable or satellite in her house. I can still remember the first time that she saw an actual television commercial. We were in the hospital during my wife’s second pregnancy. She was having some minor issues and so we had to spend a few hours in an exam room. They had a TV in there, and in order to help distract our 3 year old daughter at the time I suggested that we turn it on. She was getting restless, and was a little freaked by her surroundings so it made sense. I think an episode of Family Guy or The Simpsons was on so we let her watch that. She’s seen both shows before as I’m a fan and have the box sets on DVD, but when the first commercial came on she thought we had changed the channel.
“I don’t like this show. Turn it back Daddy,” were my instructions. Have you ever tried to explain commercials? It’s not easy. But my kids live a somewhat unique life. We have no DVD players in our car, they don’t have a TV in their room, they don’t get to watch movies on a smart phone, and we limit the amount of time they can watch movies on our living room TV. Do you know what they do? Play with my old toys. Legos, ninja turtles (before they got weird and futuristic), GI Joes (the old crappy ones with the rubber band holding their torso together), Knex, etc. They’ve got some new toys like barbies, and transformers, but they spend their time imagining. Daydreaming. Fantasizing. All of the things that a TV would do for them, preventing their minds from ever having to grow.
I’ve noticed that after 28 years of living, our species basically thrives on distraction. The majority of our lives are spent in pursuit of distraction from our lives. Odd loop, I know. We work jobs, to make money, to buy what? TV’s to distract us. Cars to take us to places to distract us. Music to distract us. Toys, games, instruments, random hobbies. They’re all a way to block our minds from the one nagging question that no one can, or really wants to, answer. Why are we here?
Why does the mind learn to pretend? When we’re born we are like animals. We accept what is around us as what is around us. We have simple needs and thoughts. I’m cold, how do I get warm? I’m hungry, how do I get fed? I’m in pain, how do I make that stop? As we become self-aware the question is no longer how, but why? Why is the question that all of us have been running from since we were kids. The mind is an adaptive and survivalist beast. In order to protect itself from going mad, it develops little distractions and getaways for us in the form of pretend. As adults we call it dreams, goals, fantasies, etc. My daughter imagining herself as a princess waiting for her prince is no different than me imagining my wife and I renting a small villa in Italy for 2 weeks and spending our time enjoying another culture, and the sights around us. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s another detour to prevent me from having to ask why. It’s easier for me to work my job, to save my money, to pay for my trip, to get to Italy. Then what?
I’ll work my job, save my money, pay for my trip, and get to Ireland. Then to Paris. Then to Scotland. Then to a tropical island. Then somewhere else. Eventually, I will die. Being a teenager in the 90’s, the song “Ironic” by Alanis always stuck with me. The line about the old man who waited his whole life to take a flight and then the plane crashed and killed him when he took it. That always got to me. What if I spend all of this time saving for a trip, and die before I reach my destination? What if my wife dies? What if our house burns down and we need that money? What if the economy dies out on us again and my money is worthless? What if I spend my whole life waiting to live? The what? Then I’m left with nothing but the unanswered question of why.
In one of my more frightening moments, I decided to stop distracting myself and finally consider this question of why. Really stop to think about it. I had mentioned in another post that if you really wanted to see God, you had to witness childbirth. To see life begin is indescribable. The problem with the question of why is that it inevitably assumes the existence of a creator. To ask why we were created is to assume that there was motivation, or conscious thought behind our creation. So when asking myself why, I had to come to the realization that despite my best efforts, I believe in God. Maybe not the God that was shoved down my throat for most of my life, but rather a force of life. Some type of being that is beyond what we are. I used the analogy of an ant farm with my wife the other night. The ants inside of the ant farm have no idea there is anything beyond them. They move the sand, they live the life, they die. They accept it because it’s all they are capable of. It would stand to reason then that if there is some higher form of life, we would be comparable to the ant farm. He watches us live our lives in simplicity, knowing that there is another world around ours that we can’t see. We can’t grasp it because it is beyond us.
From this rambling train of thought came a theory. To understand, and to appreciate, are different things, but I believe understanding can be born of appreciation. Appreciation is the spark that can light the fire that will lead to understanding, and I didn’t really appreciate life until I had witnessed its beginning. I also believe that I won’t FULLY appreciate life until I witness its end, or rather my own end. I then moved to the idea that maybe once I have learned to appreciate this life, I can begin to understand its purpose in the context of my next life. You can call that heaven, or hell, or reincarnation, or any number of things. I believe that there is something after this, and I believe what happens here will somehow carry on to what comes next.
So did I answer the question of why I am here? Yes, and in two different ways. I believe that I am here to gain a real appreciation for life, and more importantly, my life. This leads to the more tangible reason of why I am here. To truly engage in my life, and the lives of my family, to lead to an even greater appreciation of them. Stop distracting my kids from the world around them, stop distracting myself from my children, stop distracting my wife and I from our marriage. Dive head first into all of it and let it cover me. I feel like we’ve always done a good job of this in our little family. My wife and I have always preferred long conversations, and debates, over a good movie. My daughter and son have always preferred listening to me play music, or having our “dance parties”, or just pretending in their room. Our family has always been very engaged but I think we can take that even further and become truly aware of who we are as individuals and as a whole.
I worry that the more distractions we provide for our kids the less likely this outcome will be for other families. I think we are raising a generation of distracted, unimaginative, and ungrateful children and I don’t think anyone will see the consequences of this until our own generation is on their way to the grave. It will be frightening to see our own mistakes echo through the next few decades, but I’m simply hoping that my thoughts on the question of “Why” can continue, and I can keep shaking my fear of them.
Until Next Time