Jan asks about the New York Times article reporting on teen/tween media use. I’ve had that article open all day and just got around to reading it (after listening to Bolero, which is another post).
The older my son gets and the more I spend time away from technology as part of my job, the more my views about technology have shifted. Don’t get me wrong. I still love the Internet and all it has to offer. My day would be horrible if I couldn’t check in with blogs, read the paper, and even catch up on tv shows, which I do via the web almost entirely. That said, I’m starting to feel that all the ra ra about how the Internet/technology is so great and we should just let it roll on through is misguided. I also think the opposing view, that the Internet is ruining our lives, is misguided. But I don’t know where, exactly, the balance is. When I was a teen, I spent a lot of time on the phone. Just because teens today use cellphones or text, even, instead of talking, is that so different? I wanted to stay in touch with my friends, feel connected to a community, so I made phone calls. Once we could drive, we arranged to hang out at each other’s houses or the mall.
My son does the same thing, just virtually. Yes, he plays a lot of Runescape, but partly he does so because his friends K. & M. are usually playing and he talks to them via the game. It’s how he connects to them. He sometimes uses Facebook to chat with them also. He also has friends that live elsewhere, including a 20-something marine who served in Iraq. Watching tv and movies and goofy videos on YouTube are also a way kids connect these days; it’s a way of having something to talk about with their friends. Sometimes, they share those things via Facebook or texting, but they still share those things face-to-face, too. We try to limit gameplay to an hour a day during the week and then have no limits on the weekends. That said, I often do periodically kick Geeky Boy off the computer and when the weather’s nice, I make him and his sister go outside. So far, they still maintain other interests. Geeky Boy plays guitar. He still likes to read. And he plays a couple of sports. During sports seasons, in fact, the weekend is the only time he really has to play video games. Geeky Girl, too, plays sports, likes to draw, and work puzzles. They’re both obsessed with Rubik’s cube right now. We try to encourage them to balance all those things.
Though Mr. Geeky and I also spend a fair amount of time in front of the computer, we have other interests as well. I’m just not sure they rise to the level of hobby. I like cooking and gardening. Mr. Geeky works on an open source family tree program and researches his own family history in his spare time. We are all interested in politics. Blogging is kind of a hobby and one I keep trying to get the kids involved in, but they aren’t as taken by it as I am. I’m thinking of telling Geeky Boy he should get involved in a non-sport activity in the spring. I do think having activities that one does outside of work and offline is a good thing. Just like I think someone who read all the time should probably get outside once in a while.
Is gaming a hobby? I think it is, but I also think there’s a lot of stigma around it right now. If I spent two hours a day playing bridge, people wouldn’t look at me funny. But, just as I don’t know any people in my neighborhood who play bridge, I don’t know anyone who games either (except for teenage boys and a couple of girls). I’d never tell someone casually at a PTO meeting that I spent a couple of hours on Saturday morning playing WoW. But if I spent two hours reading? Even watching HGTV. Those are not that different in terms of pastime activities, yet, they’re more acceptable. As I pointed out in my post on leisure, there seems to be a real issue people have with what’s appropriate leisure time. Or an appropriate amount of leisure time. If I work 20 hours/wk, it’s expected, it seems, that I’ll fill that other 20 hours with housework or volunteering or some other “worthwhile” activity.
I think gaming, in part, has gained this stigma for a few reasons. One, it’s been associated with teenage boys and younger men who are depicted as frittering away their time anyway. It used to be filled with baseball, watching sports, just hanging out, or whatever, but it seems to me this demographic has always been expected to goof off a lot. Shirkers. Second, it’s had some content issues. There’s sex and violence and things that seem unsavory. And third, once it went online, those content issues were exacerbated and further, the online world also carries a stigma. I used to get weird looks when I told people I did a lot of my reading online. And once upon a time, I did an interview with the Wall Street Journal, whose main question was, how do you keep kids away from porn and child predators online. That was 1998. We still think the Internet is just for porn.
And maybe that’s where our worry over the amount of time our kids spend online begins. We’re worried they might find bad things or that it might rot their brains. But I also think we recognize that it might be a replacement for hanging out at the mall or in the neighborhood, but it’s also different and unfamiliar. Even for me, someone who spends as much time online (or more) than her kids, there’s a mystery surrounding what’s going on there. I don’t worry too much about child predators. We’ve had many a frank conversation around here about that. But I do worry about not “seeing” my kids friends. Or about what scheming might be going on in a space where there’s no possibility for me to overhear.
For myself, I do sometimes feel that the online world gets stale, that it doesn’t feel tangible enough and that I need something else to occupy my time. And sometimes, it’s too real. There are the mean people who show up in comments or in an online game and you think, this is my free time, I don’t need to be exposed to that while I’m trying to relax. Much better to curl up with a book.
And I think the bleh, the sense that what’s going on right now isn’t that exciting comes from the season. I am not a fan of winter. I can’t take the cold for too long and feel cooped up. And I also have less time while I’m teaching than I used to have. When I have long hours ahead, I do often come up with several things to do–read a book, write for a while, exercise, maybe bake something. But when I have smaller chunks of time, I have more difficulty filling it with something other than what can happen on the computer. Which should worry me perhaps. I don’t know.