We're Outsourcing Imagination
What kind of Luddite would I be if I didn't harp on technology a little bit. Sure, I use it. You can't be functional (let alone successful) in our modern society without utilizing technology. However, I am not up-to-date on the latest tech products, I don't know how to code, and as a public school teacher and author, I can't afford anything until it's already "obsolete".
I'm old enough to remember life before the internet, when cellular phones were bricks and CD players were the most awesome piece of technology you could show off. This was also the time before kids like me were diagnosed as ADHD (or ADD for those who aren't bouncing off walls) as easily as we diagnose the common cold. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that I exhibit the symptoms of ADHD. I know... who doesn't, right? But that's a subject for another day. What this means for me, is that unlike today's youth, I wasn't pushed into a hole, labeled a "problem child" and given medication to control me. Rather, I had to learn how to focus despite the difficulties of my condition.
On the plus side, my ADD provided my imagination with plenty of exercise. This is something else that kids today really struggle with. From about the age of seven I began telling a story in my mind. I was the main character, but all other characters were imaginary. This story played out mostly in my head. Occasionally, especially while I was younger and had no inhibitions, but even as a teenager, I acted parts of the story out. I shot at invisible aliens or their ships. I had conversations with imaginary people... and aliens. I created an alternate reality, where I was the last vestige of Humanity and I fought daily against our extra-terrestrial conquerors. I was a high school graduate before this story gave way to more important aspects of life.
Was I the target of my brother's teasing and odd looks from strangers? Yes.
Was I distracted from success in school because of my vivid imagination? Definitely, yes.
Was I ever bored? Never.
Do I now, in my adult years, regret wasting so much time on such silliness? Other than a faint desire to be better at mathematics, not at all!
Experts are now suggesting parents allow their kids to be bored. Studies show that children with a constant attachment to entertainment are less creative, suffer higher rates of ADHD, and are over-all less empathetic toward their fellow humans. Add to this the fact that these kids feel they need constant entertainment, and we are facing a true dilemma. I experience this in my junior high classroom. On the mild level, I have students who can't just sit and think. They need something to keep them busy, be it a digital device, a book, or the person next to them. They simply can't cope with doing nothing and letting their imaginations roam. On the more severe level, I have students whose inability to focus on anything mundane or which doesn't strike them as interesting means they are constantly looking for something to entertain them, even when provided an assignment or activity to perform. On one hand, I'm glad of my previous experience in acting and performing as I have to employ these skills in my teaching. The more dramatic and exciting I can make my lessons, the more likely my students will pay attention to them. On the other hand, am I not simply adding to the problem?
We are becoming a species that consumes art far more than we produce it. The results are cringe-worthy. The ability of the average person to appreciate art that doesn't involve explosions, combat, sex or which doesn't make them laugh every few seconds seems to be dwindling. Fewer people read the classics unless they're rewritten to involve some or all of the before mentioned attention grabbers. As an author of young adult sci fi, I feel the push to make every chapter exciting, or else I risk my readers quitting my books before finishing. I want to resist this; to include substantial information without constant action. Yet I wonder, does this mean my books will never be popular?
I feel we need to expose children early in their lives to reading. Read to them, read with them as they learn to read. Give them books that challenge their vocabulary and understanding. No, they won't comprehend everything; at least not the first time. However, even a twelve-year old reading Dickens or Austen, Chrichton or Heinlein is going to remember the story and when they read them again as an adult, they will be able to finish it with fondness and appreciation. Give them time to be bored. Time away from entertainment will force their brains to engage imagination and creativity. Give them simple toys without electronic components. The best toys my parents gave me were hand-made wooden ships and plastic army men.
Let's raise a new generation of creative minds who will, in turn, create the new masterpieces of our modern world.