By Jack Levine
Please allow me to reminisce for a few minutes….I promise to get to my key point soon.
As a first wave Baby Boomer, born in 1951, I recall our first oval screen “television set” and our telephone was a party line, others could listen in on our conversations (some things seem to remain the same!!).
Our home phone number was GEneral 2-3144, we had no area code, and to call my grandparents in the Bronx we had to dial up the operator for access to a long distance line.
The news was on TV for 30-minutes, three times a day….morning, early evening and late at night…the table radio had classical music, sports and some talk shows.
Newspapers were read by every adult I knew….some took both a morning and afternoon edition. Starting at age nine, I read opinion columns and editorials for my blind father almost every weekend.
We kids had transistor radios and listened to pop tunes and baseball games, especially if the adults were watching “their programs” on TV. When the Gilberts next door bought a color TV, it was huge news in the neighborhood, and the kids flocked over to see it. The trees on Bonanza’s Ponderosa spread were bright green, but Pa Cartwright’s face looked kinda’ green around the gills, too! Although Lucy’s face was a bit yellow, her hair flamed bright orange as it was supposed to be.
All the kids on my block played outdoors most of the time. Not a day went by when we were not out on the street or in the nearby playground, riding bikes, roller skating, playing one of many ball games, throwing snowballs in the winter, swimming at the beach or in the canal in the summer, fishing, flying kites, and playing all assortments of board games or card games on rainy days.
We governed ourselves in these activities, no umpires for softball, referees for basketball or football, or intervening mediators when we played Monopoly or Parcheesi.
If there was a disputed call on the ball field, we worked it out. Sometimes it took a push or shove, a yell or curse, a threat or test of strength, even an occasional punch in the arm but in the end, the game continued. Some kids laughed, others cried, some kids were loud, others quiet, we won some, lost some and over the course of a week, it all seemed to balance out.
We had a set of Collier’s Encyclopedia and a world atlas at home, a well-used library card, and I was expected to read about a half hour a day….in addition to my regular homework. I loved biographies and adventure novels…Robin Hood was a favorite. We had a LIFE magazine subscription, which I poured over for the photos and nature stories. Reading was my window to the wide world.
The 1950’s for many of my generation were safe and secure years in the suburbs. While we knew there were problems in some “bad neighborhoods” in the city, we seldom interacted with or even saw many people who didn’t look or sound like us.
We were innocent kids. I went to synagogue services every Saturday and caught a double-feature movie on some Sunday afternoons. We weren’t hated or hurt because of who we were, where we came from, or what our religion was.
We lived in a cocoon of comfort. We felt protected. Life was about listening to instructions and obeying most of them, but if there was something wrong, it got attended to. Not much slipped by! Our parents knew where we were, who we were with and what we were doing….most of the time!
The 1960’s brought many new realities…civil rights struggles captured our nation’s attention and brought needed action…brutal assassinations of great leaders shocked us The Vietnam War tested the credibility of our nation’s military power, bringing stunning deaths in far-away jungles to our living room TV’s and heart-breaking distress to families nationwide.
As I grew up from teen years to college then into adulthood, so much has changed, some things for the better, some for the worse, but among the most astonishing of all changes is the rising tide of technology, in all its forms.
I remember correcto ribbons in typewriters and my first fax machine, hearing its tinny ringing and watching the glossy paper rolling out ever so slowly. In my early years as a teacher then transitioning to my advocacy career I confess I was late to accept the inevitable, but soon understood that alphabetized index cards and paper Rolodexes were going the way of nickel candy and dime phone calls.
Fast forward to today. Phones are now smart…with apps and mega-bit memories. My trusty laptop and flip phone are old school, but I’m still able ask any question and have nearly instant answers from limitless links.
I can send a message to one person or thousands of contacts in a flash, and watch videos or movies, live ball games and 24-7 news anywhere I want or record them for later viewing.
Everyone I know has an electronic device in hand every waking moment. We are teched to the max, and a month does not pass when a brand new device is introduced that relegates the others to museum status.
A confession….While I’m not yet a Tweeter, don’t Facebook or even text (shockingly archaic, I know!), I do consider myself in touch….on my own terms.
BUT….I must ask…What is the cost of these mesmerizing advancements? The price we pay to be so connected may be at the expense of actual communication….meaningful, emotional, and mutually beneficial interaction between people who are truly listening and thinking, not just responding by reflex.
Our tools of technology may be tyrants. A tool is something that we use for our benefit. A tyrant is something that uses and abuses us without our being able to resist.
I’m convinced that we’re transforming ourselves into victims of the beeps, buzzing, flickering lights and instant messages to the point of addiction. We’re hooked.
While some adults may be conscious of the need to balance high tech with other forms of communication, many too many of our youth know only the tech life. I observe young people ages five to 25 who don’t speak in full phrases or sentences, make little or no eye contact, neither read nor write for pleasure, and are skilled to manipulate tiny keyboards but show no interest in artistic or creative expression.
Too many young people are sedentary not active, live indoors not outside, reflexively responding to electronic movements but unwilling or unable to learn from our past or contemplate their futures.
Even babies and toddlers are being immersed in screen technology…a trend I consider unnatural and unnerving. Our youngest ones need friendly faces not artificial devices.
From the earliest months of life children learn what’s important to adults…the things we pay attention to. If the smart phone, I-pad and TV capture the super-majority of our time, then the lesson is obviously clear…. our children are learning that they don’t matter.
Where does this lead us? If adults are more interested in connectivity than conversation, how will our children learn the basics…not only of communication, but what about caring and compassion?
We have some serious home work to do…..lest I fear we might lose a generation of emotionally competent communicators.
I welcome your response to my ideas and am sincerely interested in hearing from you. Tell me what you think….
Jack Levine, Founder 4Generations Institute
P.O. Box 10875 Tallahassee, FL 32302The Advocate’s Credo:
Thou art my child, my parent, and my elder,
I love thee best,
But could not love thee half as much,
Loved I not all the rest.