Posted: September 01, 2011
Rundles wrap-up: Space cadetsJeff Rundles
I was in the supermarket the other day and ran into a friend who had her 2-year-old in her shopping cart. Only this wasn't just a shopping cart, but rather a newfangled one, shaped like some kind of race car that was equipped with an in-car entertainment system. The kid was in there watching television from a menu of pre-selected children's programming. The mom controls the viewing from an additional television screen on the top and back of the kiddie car.
I get the whole notion of having something to occupy the little ones during boring adult stuff. I have used in-car entertainment systems in a vehicle for movies and kid's shows on long drives. But is there no escape?
Even when I was little, television was emerging as something like opium for children. My mother would complain that we watched too much television, of course, but she also used it to occupy us so she could make dinner or do laundry or simply have a few moments to herself. It was limited, however, to our living room, not ubiquitous.
And it's not only children. Just recently the 7-Eleven where I often get coffee in the morning installed a television above the coffee bar, presumably so I wouldn't miss any of the exciting entertainment news, sports scores and, of course, important advertising messages about the pizza, nachos and hot dogs available four feet away in that very 7-Eleven. I'm out of the car for seven minutes, so naturally I have concerns about what might happen to Lindsay Lohan in the interim.
Another time I was in a restaurant/bar, visited the "facilities," and was held captive by a video screen with all manner of sports information and, curiously, advertising for the various beers, wine and cocktails served in that establishment along with admonitions on designated drivers and promotions for taxi cab companies.
Speaking of taxis, the last several times I have traveled on business and taken cabs from the airport to my hotel, a seat-mounted video screen gave me weather updates, the latest news and sports, and come-ons for restaurants, theaters and concerts. I used to look at the scenery, but like everyone else these days my view of the world is through a cathode tube; it's virtual reality and on literally all the time.
Indeed, the bars and restaurants these days can't be successful unless there are dozens of television screens, replete with every sports and news channel to satisfy any fan base or political persuasion, plus video games like trivia contests. And now, with the explosion of smart cellular telephones and iPads, more and more people - children as young as 5 or 6 included - have access to television shows, movies, Web video content, interactive games and any and all kinds of stimulation in their pocket, purse or briefcase 24/7.
Some of this is helpful (e.g. advertising in cabs in an unfamiliar city), but most of it is just overblown. Information is one thing, but does it lead to discussion? Does it lead to knowledge? Does it broaden one's perspective or simply narrow one's focus? I think it is no coincidence that as the information access, the constant bombardment of entertainment, news and opinion choices streamed at us at every opportunity increases, we are not coming together as a people, but rather furthering our divides.
While the world talks to us more and more all the time, the less and less we actually talk among ourselves. We are told what to understand, seek out compatriots to solidify and set in stone our positions, and actually self-limit our access to anything that might open our eyes to viable alternatives. We're not smarter, but rather intellectually dulled at an ever-increasing pace.
I am particularly concerned about young children and young people generally, as it seems they are more interested in stimulation than concentration. Many, if not most of the jobs available in our world as we move forward will require higher intellect, more collaboration and a great deal of nose-to-the-grindstone study and attention to detail, and what we are creating are space cadets. This is not an environment for innovation or creativity.
Unless, of course, you're in television.
Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.