Friday, July 20, 2007

Virtuality bites

"Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hay-fields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.

By being well acquainted with all these they come into most intimate harmony with nature, whose lessons are, of course, natural and wholesome."

Luther Burbank, Training of the Human Plant, New York 1909

BURBANK suckers we were back in 1960s through 1970s. So we combed every square inch of available terrain and topography to glean and gather whatever changing time and clime afforded. Boka-boka’t saranggola, singkamas, anonas, kamatsile’t sineguelas sa Abril. Freshwater clams, mussels and soft-shelled turtles in mudflats; quails, egrets and snipes in grasslands in May. Scarabs, rhinoceros beetles and paddy crabs plus risky swims across a flood-swollen river in rainy June. Fireflies and fat bullfrogs in the dog days of July; luscious wild mushrooms and fighting spiders from August ‘til September. Mole crickets or kamaru, tugui, name and ubag yams dug off bamboo thickets from October and onwards… Blame it on the seasons that never ran out of trinkets and toys and things that kept us in constant wonder—and wandering-- on a year-round romp.

So what if we smelled of carabao wallows, mounds of crushed hay, and sun-roasted catfish for the most part of the day? All that ruckus left us scar-wracked. Nicked, gnat-bitten, wasp-stung, bruised and gashed all over. We were sun-broiled, wind-whacked, rain-lashed, somewhat dead-tired any given day. Ah, reality does more than bite. It swallows you whole like that huge fish that ate up then chucked the prophet Jonah. Heck, we were plunging into mounds of hands-on fun. So we reeked of the sylvan, riparian, and bucolic landscape that we were exploring and was somehow imploding inside us.

That was too old-fashioned, too outmoded Jurassic era sort of folly. Too far fetched from the high-tech and digital electronic assemblage of current reality readily available in most households.

And too dirt-cheap: old geezers like me didn’t have to cough out P20 an hour in the claustrophobic confines of an Internet cafĂ© for the thrills of inflicting carnage and mayhem on unlikely victims in, say, World of Warcraft, Doom, or Counterstrike.

No matter: Filipinos don’t have much access yet to the ubiquitous PC or laptop—only one of every 50 does. And for those who do, more than 95% are diddling over Friendster accounts or drooling over conquests in online skirmishes of combat simulation games.

Their counterparts in the American mainland are glutted with a surfeit of household electronic media, the ubiquitous computer included—had growing children been duck eggs and electronic media about ‘em a wallow of brine, the kids are likely to turn into itlog na maalat in no time.

There’s an average three TV sets with access to cable or satellite-based channels in every American household. This means that children have many opportunities to latch their attention onto the idiot box—and they can feast on a smorgasbord of TV programs.

About half of U.S. households have a video game console "and between one-fifth (for the 0 to 2-year olds) and a third (or 33% of the 4 to 6-year olds) have access to a hand-held video game. Nearly four of every five homes have a computer while seven of 10 households have Internet access.

Such surfeit of appliances for soaking or frying one’s brains is hardly surprising. And many young children have TV sets in their own bedrooms to keep ‘em amused, why, 54% of parents say that "it frees up the rest of the TVs in the house so that other family members can watch their own shows."

Other excuses cited:
(1) It keeps the child occupied so that the parent can do things around the house;
(2) It helps the child fall asleep; and,
(3) It is used as a reward for good behavior.

Whatever offering of lame excuses, having TV in a child’s bedroom merely ties in with dismal results in academic, social, and physical activity.

"On a typical day, 75% of children watch television and 32% watched videos or DVDs for approximately one hour and 20 minutes on average. New media are also making inroads with young children: 27% of five to six-year olds used a computer (for 30 minutes on the average) on a typical day," cites Dr. Elizabeth A. Vandewater in her 2007 study Digital Childhood: Electronic Media and Technology Among Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers.

The study included 1,051 parents of children six months to six years of age. Majority of the respondents were mothers—41% worked full time, 17% did part-time work, 38% were hausfrau.

She notes that TV "most certainly serves as an activator of the reticular activating system which stimulates attention and alertness. As such, parents who use the television to put their children to sleep may actually be putting them at risk for a future of sleep disorders."

Study results indicate that very young children in the U.S. are comfortable using motley media on their own, particularly the so-called "idiot box" or what maverick author Harlan Ellison termed as "glass teat"—that’s TV.

"More than half (54%) of the 0 to 2-year olds and almost all (82% and 88% respectively) of the 3 to 4- and 5 to 6-year olds could turn on the TV by themselves and many could also put in a video or DVD by themselves. Although fewer of these children could use a mouse, it is noteworthy that roughly 71% of the 5 to 6-year olds could," she cites.

It seems clear that these children will be very different from previous generations of children with respect to their comfort with technology and the extent to which they use all forms of technology in their daily lives, according to the study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) plies a terse recommendation: (1) no television for children younger than two years, (2) no more than two hours of TV after that.

AAP maintains that "reading and playing outdoors are two activities that are deemed to be developmentally crucial for healthy development in childhood."

But the welter of electronic media in U.S. households can get in the way of the more engaging habits—any given day nearly seven of 10 kids in the 0-2 year age group watch TV while 85% of parents had not talked to a pediatrician about their children’s media use.

"It is possible that parents’ knowledge of their children’s media use is somewhat limited," the study warns and cites a 1997 survey that found time spent watching TV without parents was related to significant reductions in time spent interacting with parents.

Apparently, watchwords such as "familial bonding" or "quality time" have been dumped or drowned in the flurry of chatter and clutter of images purveyed by a surfeit of electronic media in a household.

"At this point, there are more ‘unknowns’ than ‘knowns’ in terms of the impact of exposure to screen and electronic media on very young children’s development. There is some intriguing evidence that background television interferes with toddlers’ ability to focus on play.

"There is also correlational evidence of a connection between children’s viewing and subsequent attention problems. The question of the impact of this screen medium on very young children’s neurologic and attendant cognitive development is in urgent need of additional examination," the study concludes.

Two-dimensional sights and sounds within zapping distance of a remote or mouse evade hands-on exploration—they don’t offer nuances and permutations of textures. They don’t smell at all. So unlike the varied dimensions of the great outdoors that proffers lavish feasts for the senses.

"But I find TV so educational," argues a pundit, "that when someone turns it on. I go to another room and read a book."

No comments: