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Screened out

I am a horrible, awful student. A few weeks ago, I was involved in a conversation of international relations (and lest you think that I am out of my depth, that’s my MAJOR) and I found myself searching my brain… and forgetting… the name of the prime minister of Canada. Canada! Hockey goes away, and it’s like they don't even exist anymore. (The PM’s name is Paul Martin, by the way, for all of you who threatened to move out, but have yet to fulfill your promise. I hear he’s a nice guy.) Clearly, I should know this stuff.

A few hours after this embarrassing display of ignorance, I found myself typically engaged in nighttime behavior: having a few beers and sitting in front of the TV. In the midst of a conversation, and already a little buzzed, I found myself singing the theme song to Fraggle Rock. THAT I could remember. I can’t name four generals from World War II, but I can name the four weapons used by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Is there something wrong with this picture?

I spent most of my time in high school (and indeed, quite a bit of time even on breaks now) in my best friend's basement, a cathode-tube Camelot. My best friend has three brothers, all within 10 years of each other, and so the basement was set up as a shrine to nerdocity at which my friends and I worshipped weekly: three televisions, four videogame systems and five computers on a LAN.

Most of my young life was spent in front of one screen or another. When I got to college, I spent four years in front of a computer screen. Arguably, I'll spend the rest of my working life there too, with intermittent pauses to sleep, play golf and kiss my boss’s butt. My friends and I joke, somewhat morbidly, that we’re all going to be dead at 40 from some sort of vicious eye cancer, brought on by years of computer-screen radiation. Who knows? We’re the first generation that's had to deal with that.

Leisure has been a way of life since hunting-gathering stopped. I can imagine Victorian mothers screaming at their sons to “stop hitting that damn hoop with that damn stick and do some arithmetic!” They turned out alright. We’re just not playing tiddlywinks and ten-pins anymore, is all.

Are we losing something by spending all our lives in front of the screens? We’re not getting out as much, maybe, unless you have a laptop. We’re certainly getting fatter. Then again, I’m going to be able to stay in touch with most of the people I graduate with via Instant Messenger. I’ve never met any of my father’s friends from college, and I doubt he’s talked to them in quite some time as well.

A lot is made about the media age destroying our values. Certainly the founding fathers never envisioned a nation in which you can flip a switch, pick up a controller and go shoot a few hookers in the back of the head. Thank you, Grand Theft Auto. But could a nation of children raised by the loving cardigan sweaters of Mr. Fred Rogers really be that bad?

In 20 years I’m not going to have any slinkies or silly putty to show my kids, but I’ll be able to show them the video of the dancing badgers. In fact, they’re probably going to think it’s quaint that I play Madden football, just like our parents thought it was quaint to listen to the NFL on the radio instead of watching it on TV. (Of course, my kids are going to think their father did a lot of drugs when he describes the game about the Italian plumber that jumped on the scowling mushroom things.)

I’m not sure if we’re missing out on some of the best parts of the world by sitting in front of our screens, or merely getting pictures of a larger planet we could never see before. I know one thing is true, though: that creepy recurring dream I have about the Doozers knocking my house down? That’s not going away anytime soon.

Matt DeTura is a Trinity senior. His column appears every other Friday.

 

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