Jewish World Review August 25, 2005/ 20 Av,
When the Xbox replaces the sandbox
High tech intrudes everywhere. The insistent chimes of cell
phones, video games and the click-click-click from the keyboard of the
laptop invade consciousness like mind snatchers, distracting from the homely
rhythms that once contributed to the inner life of family. A ride on a
bicycle path, shaded by oaks and pines, affords a view of men, women and
children, walking the walk and talking the talk on cell phones, their senses
oblivious to everything around them. (I think some of them were phoning each
Few of us would give up our high-tech "necessities," but even
fewer of us think much about what we sacrifice for our wired comforts.
Emerson, decidedly out of literary fashion, recalls how "progressive"
inventions inevitably sacrifice something dear.
"The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of
his feet," he wrote in "Self-Reliance," one of his several essays that
speaks directly to our postmodern times. "He has a fine Geneva watch, but he
fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun."
Computers store knowledge. We take shortcuts through Google,
Dogpile and Yahoo to avoid actually reading a history text or losing
ourselves for an hour or two in literature. Technological props change the
way we think about the world around us, how we use our senses to interpret
experience. Not all is benign.
The most problematic "progressive" toy is the video game,
preying on the sensibilities of the young who play them by the hour. Some
are educational, and researchers suggest they can contribute to hand-eye
coordination. Some wise men even defend the violent games as a "substitute"
for aggressive behavior, acting as sublimation for scary thoughts (as in
fairy tales). But the Big Bad Wolf by comparison is a fluffy puppy.
"Hours after I had played a first-person shooter game," she
writes, "I could not erase the over-the-gun-barrel perspective from my mind,
nor could I expunge from memory the image of my enemy's head exploding in a
profuse, bloody mess when I shot him (or the fleeting feeling of
satisfaction that my 'kill' gave me. . . . [I]mages have influence, and it
is not merely moralizers who are concerned about their long-term effects,
particularly on children who are already living in an image-saturated
These games allow a child to take on different identities,
lending a sense of power and control, but only through violence. These games
can become addicting, offering immediate gratification that makes
disciplined study all the more difficult. Nearly all the gamers between the
ages of 12 and 17 have been playing since the age of 2, according to the
Entertainment Software Association, a lobby for the trade. Identities are
subsumed inside the characters of the game.
Vacation houses on the beach advertise themselves as "computer-friendly," and children routinely pack spare batteries in beach bags. Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods," writes that children suffer a "nature-deficit disorder." A British study found that 8-year-olds reported knowing all the images in the Pokemon video game, but couldn't identify otters, beetles or oak trees.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I write this on my laptop from
a deck overlooking the beautiful Currituck Sound on North Carolina's
spectacular Outer Banks, with my grandsons Teodoro, 9, and Enrique, 6, lost
in their LEGO Star Wars video game. Delight is written across their faces
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Suzanne Fields' column by clicking here.