I grew up during the sixties and seventies, entering college in the early eighties when desktop computers were something very new. There was only one kid with a computer in the entire dorm when I was a sophomore, and shortly thereafter cel phones started appearing that were the size of a brick. Once again, none of my friends had one. My childhood survived being a luddite before it was difficult not to be one, and I have adapted to a world filled with technology, as have most of my generation. I belonged to the last generation to take typing classes on IBM Selectric typewriters that were the industry standard of the time, now it is difficult to find one anywhere, let alone get ribbons for them. What I did get out of my childhood, which was also mostly without a TV, was a connection to my outside world and to the people I grew up with.
Computer games were also rare so that was another distraction that I had to do without. Today these games take up enormous blocks of time in children’s and adults’ lives that used to be taken up with interacting with other people and with the environment. Some folks will argue that these games can be played with multiple players, help decision making skills and also teach how to work as a team. I think that this is actually not the case because these games are not rooted in reality. They don’t help kids learn to relate to other people in the real world that surrounds them, nor do they really learn much of anything from gaming. I play computer games and can guarantee that what I’ve learned from them is simply how to escape from reality and put my thought process on hold. Games tend to rope folks in for more time than is really available, distracting them from building strong relationships and physical activity that used to be the norm.
The lack of computers did make finding information a slower process, but the quality of the information that was found tended to be more reliable and much easier to fact check. The library was one of the main areas where I went to gather information for my reports and to find reading material for the joy of reading. You had to know how to search the stacks and the card catalogue. Today tons of information is available just a few clicks away on the computer, however most of it really needs to be fact checked and it’s often difficult to determine the credibility of most web sites that offer “the truth.” Social media also has taken over many people’s lives to the extent that they rely on it for information which is all too often false. Despite having access to an incredible resource we have lost our ability to vet sources. Perhaps it was a skill that the populace was short on to begin with but was held in check by the type of media that was available in my childhood.
I spent my childhood running through backyards, playing football in fields with groups of friends, and stomping through the woods that I found while putting 2,500 miles on my bike each summer. I swam in the mornings with AAU swimming during the summers. Plunging into an unheated pool at eight a.m. to swim laps while the coach walked up and down the pool deck, I worked up my own heat, got my heart pumping and then road my bike back home. I delivered newspapers after swim practice in the winter with my hair freezing at the edges of my hat. There were so many books that called to me, model aircraft to build, music to listen to and practice. I didn’t have a video game to pretend to be a rockstar, I had a guitar that I learned to play and went to music school with. I had friends that I bonded with strapping on skates at the local ponds, and I still have a scar on my chin from the hockey stick I took to the face on one of those ponds. I swam and danced at the Youth Center with hundreds of other kids. I had a childhood and it was a good one.
I truly believe that if I had the technology available to me that our children have, I probably would have had a very different childhood. Instead of sneak reading books by flashlight I probably would have been mainlining video games in a corner, and while both are forms of escapism, reading does have a concrete benefit that gaming does not. I probably would not have been nearly as active as I was, which would have led to a weight problem sooner in my life. I have an addictive personality, which would have led to difficulties with the screen time just as it eventually led to a three pack a day habit with cigarettes that I eventually kicked. I’m glad that I didn’t grow up with the distractions that are present for the present generation, and while my childhood wasn’t without its own brands of difficulties I wouldn’t trade it for today’s conveniences.