Summer fun is best unplugged

Kate Bigam

On one of the first days of spring, I witnessed a quintessential sign of the season – a little boy, about 9 years old, riding his bike and toting a fishing pole. Nothing says childhood like bike riding and fishing, right?

And then I noticed what else the boy was doing – talking on his cell phone. Since then, I’ve been contemplating technology’s role in the downfall of childhood.

When I was little, I rode my bike to my friends’ houses to ask if they wanted to come out to play. I memorized their phone numbers because my home telephone didn’t have a built-in address book. Years later, I still remember some of these numbers – even if I haven’t called them since “Salute Your Shorts” was in syndication.

These days, kids can text their friends, asking to meet them on the jungle gym at noon. That is, if they even play on jungle gyms anymore. For all I know, monkey bars and swing sets may be extinct now, replaced by more advanced toys like Dance Dance Revolution.

Technology has changed childhood in nearly every way imaginable. It’s not just cell phones – it’s automated toys dominating Toys “R” Us and online chat rooms that allow kids to talk to adults three times their age.

When we were young, the most advanced toy on the market was Teddy Ruxpin, with his creepy voice and blinking eyes. We also learned about sex the old-fashioned way, eavesdropping on siblings’ conversations and sneaking peeks at mom’s Redbook – not by talking to middle-aged perverts who tried to solicit us for underage sex on MySpace.

Thrust into the technological age before they’re of a responsible age, today’s children are missing out on the imagination and innocence that made childhood a joy for our generation. I wonder how many of them have used a cardboard box to fashion a pretend sailboat, or if they’ve ever made fort castles out of couch cushions and blankets.

These kids, who have never experienced a life without technology, are being trained to depend on their gadgets even more heavily than our generation does. Sure, I hyperventilate when I forget to change my away message, but I was raised knowing that I can indeed survive without my electronic devices because, at one time, they didn’t exist.

I don’t want to turn back the hands of time, and I know it’d be unrealistic to try. Plus, I like my laptop and my camera phone a lot. But sometimes I worry that today’s children will not know how to be artists, poets, dreamers – the things that require imagination. Do they know how to make the most of their minds, or are their imaginations lying dormant, trampled by talking toys and electronic board games that do all the thinking for them? Are the simpler things in life being lost to the complicated, the high-tech and the robotic?

Maybe I’m just getting old and rambling about “the good old days,” but can you blame me? I miss tree forts and tire swings.

So – want to go ride bikes? Leave your cell at home, please.

Kate Bigam is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].