Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Electronics aren't evil

So, I came across this article this morning from Real Simple's blogs. Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that the OP actually typed the phrase, “How long have you been playing computer?!?!?!” and get to the heart of the matter.

For a long time, it's seemed to me that parents all around America (and probably the world) are under the impression that television/computers/screens/electronics/anything newfangled is evil.

It's not true. It never has been. And articles like this just remind me of it over and over again.

I should be clear here: I'm not coming at this from a parental perspective, that's part of my point. I'm not a parent, and I don't intend to be. I'm coming at this from the other side, I'm trying to explain this to you on behalf of your kids, whose opinions you seem to be disregarding.

I know why, trust me, I get that. I know teenagers, I remember being one. It's easy to lose perspective, to get completely caught up in things. It's not that you don't realize how unimportant these teenage slights are, it's that up until now that really WAS the worst thing that could have happened to you. You don't yet know how bad life can really get, and that sometimes makes teenagers really insufferable to be around. It's really simple for adults to just chalk it up to "teenagers are stupid and we know better" because, well, most of the time we do.

But when it comes to electronics, you don't, actually. It's well documented how quickly we lose touch with emerging technologies as we grow older, and how quickly and simply kids can embrace them. I remember being in middle school when the internet and the "world wide web" was this weird and wonderful new thing. Now kids can have Facebook pages before they are even born. I've embraced the online world in a way my parents haven't, and probably couldn't. But the generation born even just ten years after me? I'll never be able to get to their level either.

The point of this is that the first thing we need to accept is that as an older generation, we don't live or exist in the same place as "these kids today." We see technology and electronics in a completely different way than they do, down to the most basic and fundamental of levels. And this is coming from somebody who DOES spend a very large amount of time on social networking sites and watching TV.

Which gets me to my next point. Parents seem to be assuming, almost unanimously, that nothing good can come from television/computer use. That's just completely untrue.

First of all, you know one thing you're keeping your children from when you're keeping them from computers? Jobs. The most financially successful people I know at the moment are all computer programmers. Almost everybody I know that has a good, steady job has it because of their computer expertise. It's not that computers are our future, it's that they are our present. The more familiar and comfortable we are with them, the more employable we are. That's the truth of our lives right now.

And it's not even just the obvious things like programmers that benefit from time spent with electronics. Everybody acts like watching television or movies is just sucking the creativity straight out of our youth. That could be true for some kids, but I think we're blaming the wrong thing. I am a filmmaker, a writer, a story teller. It's what I do, it's what I'm passionate about, and it's how I use my imagination to better the world around me. I watched a lot of tv as a kid, and I used it to fuel my creativity instead of draining it. Kids do that, they are good at it.

As an added bonus, if you work to find a way to direct that obsession with television into creativity, you're reaching your child where they are, not striving to make them what you want them to be. Listen, I love to read. It's one of my favorite things, I still routinely stay up half the night reading because a book is just too good to put down. But some kids don't like it, it doesn't reach them. That's just the way they are, it's about they way they learn and how they internalize things. Movies, television, computer games, books, they're all stories. It's all art (no matter what Roger Ebert says) and they all can spark creativity and imagination if you want them to. I can't help but feel that when people start talking about getting their kids to read instead of play games that what they are really doing is trying to make their kid into what they WANT them to be, instead of who they truly are.

Instead of assuming that computers and television are evil, why don't you figure out what it is about them that your kids enjoy? WHY do they like them? WHAT do they get out of it? Are they just vegging because they want to zone out for a while? Then sure, tell them they get an hour of that every day (because as adults, what wouldn't we give for an hour to zone out every day?) But if your kid is programming flash games to play with her friends, then for goodness sakes, encourage her. Sure, you can make sure she does all her homework, but don't act like just because it's electronic it's not worthwhile. Creating a video game, making a short film, even keeping a blog, these are all things that are just as creative and valid as painting, playing piano, and all those other things parents are okay with because they understand them.

On a side note about the homework, I never did mine. I did just enough to get by with A's and B's. It wasn't because of the computer or television. If I had been denied those things (and I was sometimes) I would have found other things to do. Kids don't skip their homework because of computers and tv. They skip their homework because they hate their homework. Find out why, and work on fixing that instead. Maybe their homework is so remedial that they can tell it isn't worth their time. Maybe it's so difficult that they need help but don't want to ask for it. Maybe they have a learning disorder, or the teacher they had before this one was so terrible that they don't have the foundation they need for the class they are in. They have a reason that homework isn't important to them, figure out what it is.

I've been spending the last few months getting to know a group of professional gamers. Most people assume when I say that, I mean game testers or designers. Those are awesome people to, but I mean men (they are all men right now, unfortunately) who make their living as competitors. They train on their chosen game, they travel to tournaments and play for prize money. They have sponsors, they might earn a salary, and while it's a very difficult job to get, it is just as valid a job as being a professional athlete.

All of these guys were once high school students (actually, some of them still are, but not the ones I am filming for my project). Once upon a time, they were just playing a game they loved for hours at a time. The difference is they were good enough at it, and they were determined and competitive enough, that they now make a living at it. I'm not saying your son/daughter is going to become a professional gamer. I'm just saying you should be open to the possibility that your kids passion for electronics could be a career path that you haven't considered, and that career path could be the way to happiness for your child.

And if you don't want your kid to be happy even more than you want them to be successful, then I'm not entirely sure what to say to you.