Posts Tagged ‘lifestyles’

The Mr. Roger’s Effect

August 29, 2018

In 1979, I was commissioned to illustrate the cover and main feature of Pittsburgh Magazine. The assignment was intriguing; it required concept images for an article by futurist Vance Packard that speculated what life might be like for the average person/family in the year 2001. 

Now, in 2018, it’s been many years since the publication of that article and Mr. Packard (who passed away in 1996) was more accurate in his prediction than he would live to know. Because our constant attention is so engaged by the products of technology and marketing, we rarely stop to realize how deeply we are caught up in metaphorical perpetual motion machine.

Of course, that last statement probably makes me sound like a techno-phobe, yet I can assure you that my profession has required me to become way too familiar with digital devices in order to remain a viable creative. However, I have gained some of the perspective that age grants, which prompted this essay today.  

When that issue of the magazine was published, my children were very young and due to paradigm shifts in the advertising/ publishing industry, I was compelled to work out of my home studio as a freelance illustrator. Large blocks of time were often needed to prepare and/or complete an assignment.

Nevertheless, my husband and I did our best to insure that our children were not permitted an enormous amount of TV exposure because we felt that actual playtime was more important to their development than staring glassy-eyed at a television or at video game screens like the Super Mario Brothers.  Inevitably, such caution  has since surrendered to the digital eye/mind candy that has come to define our culture.

But I still remember the restful ambience brought to our early afternoons by the now-legendary TV show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. It was a dependable event that was usually followed by nap-time.

Fast-forward to a recent Tuesday, a regular babysitting day for our grandson. Noticing an ‘eye-rub’ and slowing physical coordination, I could see that he was reluctantly winding down from a morning of energetic play and would soon be ready for a nap. So I thought that a bit of light-hearted children’s programming might be the key to encourage it. However, when I turned to our local NPR station (always a reliable go-to for this), I realized that children’s programs had undergone a dramatic change in the last few decades.

From the quiet ambience of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the ‘children’s programming’, we now witness is a dizzying variety of fast-moving colorful graphics, changing scenery and animated characters noisily leaping around the screen at frenetic speed. Their chirpy falsetto voices (adults pretending to be children) are accompanied by frenzied, drumming dance ‘music’ that pervades our living room with the rare punctuation by a few bars of quiet notes is often enough to trigger a migraine headache.

Sure, no one is forcing me to watch this insane chaos, but as a certified crabby old grandma, I was annoyed and disappointed at the lack of calm, soothing content that we all need in order to relax from the onslaught of the 24/7 marketing and info-tainment industry.

Yes, children must learn to understand the world to function within it, but in the face of such constant stimulation and noise, think-time is becoming a rarity in our days. The intrusive graphics of the movie ‘Minority Report’ come to mind here.

So how do we teach children to release their creativity and imagination when media persuades us to substitute and accept its own relentless content for it?

Given that our economy forces so many of us to work one or two jobs resulting in mental/physical exhaustion by day’s end, it’s understandably easy to depend on electronic babysitters. But to keep young minds and bodies healthy, we need more than that. We must increase our efforts to be present for them even in small doses; by telling them our stories, reading books, encouraging their questions, and providing thoughtful answers. Not by stashing them in front of the TV or play station or throwing myriad plastic toys at them, but letting them explore the world around them (safely, of course).

OK, this stuff probably sounds obvious to anyone who has read the requisite childcare manuals and maybe followed their pediatricians’ advice (which seems to change every ten years or so), but it is not meant to be patronizing. More to the point, I hope it will serve as a little reminder to consider that if the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood show could be reduced to a handful of words, it might be these: Slow down, relax, think, love, wisdom and kindness. Despite the distractions of our society, these actions and values must be preserved if we are to develop our potential as human beings and as stewards of our planet.

Thanks for indulging my little rant. Now, I hope I can remember all of this next time babysitting becomes intense and all I want is an afternoon nap myself…

 

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