- Friday, April 09, 2010
Television saturates our lives with mindless entertainment, and then isolates us from other people. Before TV, families created their own entertainment, often gathering around the fireplace for stories or around the piano to sing some favorite songs. The front porch was a staple of American society, a place for neighbors to stop by and catch up on the latest news.
After the onset of television, front porches disappeared. The living room, once the "sitting room," morphed into the main hub of entertainment in the house. The fragmentation began. Families isolated themselves from their neighbors, choosing the banter of neighbors on TV sitcoms rather than real conversation with neighbors across the street.
At least in the early years of television, watching TV still remained a family event. Friends and family gathered together to watch the best comedies and variety shows. But now, as television variety has increased, so has the number of televisions in a home. Children have Nickelodeon at the foot of their beds; preteens have the Disney Channel; teenagers have MTV. Newspapers are now reporting that in many homes, different tastes in television programs have caused husbands and wives to stop watching TV together. He goes one way; she goes another. The fragmentation is now complete. There's something to appeal to everyone. From the entertainer's viewpoint, everyone wins! But in reality, everyone loses.
My Romanian friends and family who visit the United States find it remarkable that Americans seem to have little time for friends and neighbors. We keep to ourselves. We devote our time to the Caesar of Leisure and entertainment. We sacrifice our free time to the television and the Internet. Filling our lives with perpetual entertainment has become easier than ever. One can now download movies to a cell phone or listen to virtually any type of music on a portable MP3 player.
The Caesar that would hold us captive to our free time even affects our children. Parents taxi children from one event to another, focusing all their leisure time on dance classes, organized soccer, Little League, or music lessons. Many times the children are as unhappy with their hurried lifestyle as the parents, and if given the choice, would simply want to go home. When we allow sports, recreation, and other leisure activities to dictate our schedules, we and our children suffer.
In recent years, the Caesar of Leisure has become prominent in the proliferation of video games. For many families, the Xbox is in charge.
When I was attending seminary in Louisville, I spent my afternoons tutoring young elementary and middle-school students in failing Kentucky schools. The tutoring job provided me a unique opportunity to enter a family's home for a couple of hours twice a week and assess the family dynamic. Sadly, I realized that many of these children did not need a tutor; they needed a parent.
One sixth-grade boy was failing in school because he played video games eight hours every night. Yes, eight hours per night! The bookshelves in his room were full, not of books, but of game cartridges. It was no wonder that the boy was falling asleep in school and could barely read. Frustrated with his addiction to video games, the parents took his bedroom door off its hinges. I found it odd that they could take such a radical step to monitor their son's entertainment consumption, and yet never consider the simpler step of unplugging his personal TV and game system.
One of my other students also played video games for many hours every evening. But when I asked his father about the wisdom in playing Nintendo for so long, he replied, "Actually, I'm the one who's playing. He just watches."
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