I was born in the 1950s — making me just one of the many American baby boomers in current society. To hear my adult children talk, you would think that meant I grew up in the age of dinosaurs. Certainly the television sets of my childhood would look like dinosaurs next to the sleek models of today. Still, those magical boxes held us riveted to programs such as Roy Rogers and Andy Griffith.
Watching television in the 1960s was often a family affair. There were three main channels from which to choose, and most of the time parents chose what programs to watch. Television was in black and white for much of my youth, but that never seemed to detract from the quality of the programs. Watching John Glenn’s blast-off into space or the funeral of JFK were no less spectacular or moving because the pictures came in shades of gray.
Kids played outside a lot in those days. We jumped rope, roller skated on skates that required keys for fitting, played freeze tag and pick-up games of baseball, kick ball and basketball. We climbed trees and rode bicycles. We used our imagination and what few props we could find to play house or school or cowboy-and-Indian.
In the 21st century, life moves much faster. Every television plays programs in color. Most households have more than one television. There are hundreds of channels from which to choose — and still there are times I can’t find anything worth watching.
No one has to get up to change the channel any more. The remote control means I can sit in one place and aimlessly flip through channels. My kids’ mouths gape open when I tell them we used to have to change channels manually on the television set itself.
But it isn’t just the television set itself that has changed; program content has gone from that which was safe for family viewing to topics and demonstrations that leave me blushing — and sometimes that’s just the commercials. In my childhood, married adults on television didn’t even sleep in the same bed. Today, people who met on the bus twenty minutes prior are nearly naked together in a bed.
Video games and computers keep children entertained these days. When I drive through neighborhoods, I rarely see children playing outside. My grandchildren moan at the suggestion to “go outside and play.”
Television, video games and computers, in my estimation, are meant to be enhancements to life, not substitutes for living. I’m not too old to understand that things change with time, but I believe I’m wise enough to know that the current technologies should not be a substitute for childhood play.