The Neighborhood Gang
Whenever I’m in a hurry, without fail, I can’t find something. Why does that always happen? The customary list of absentees includes my phone, wallet, car keys, matching earring, shoe, and child. I’m only partially serious about that last one. This time I was trying to find my shoe. After a few unsuccessful minutes of searching, I spotted my 9-month-old daughter clutching the elusive heel. She was holding the shoe up to her ear. “What in the world is she doing?” I wondered. I quickly realized my shoe was her quixotic cell phone. She babbled into the nude patent leather pump mimicking the voice inflection of a standard conversation. Initially, it was hilarious and cute. Talking on a cell phone was one of the first behaviors I had ever witnessed my baby imitate. The more that thought sank in, the more daunting it became.
Remember the days when you ran with the pack of neighborhood kids from yard to yard playing freeze tag and riding bikes until the street lights came on as your cue to pedal home for dinner? Remember the weekends when you scarfed down your dinner only to run back outside to play Kick the Can and Capture the Flag (or sock) to continue your side of the block’s reigning title: Champions of the Night Games? OK, maybe you thought of a more original title. Remember the summer breaks filled with launching yourself headfirst down slip’n’slides, throwing water balloons, splashing in the monsoon-filled retention basin, and sending paper boats on a voyage down the gutter?
Eventually, we outgrew it all, and our spots in the neighborhood gang were succeeded by younger siblings and new move-ins. Life goes on. I always thought the legacy of the neighborhood gang would go on, too. Surely, it would be continued with subsequent generations. But when I walk out my front door and take a look at the relinquished neighborhood streets I wonder, “where are they?” I know there is a plethora of children in my neighborhood. I see them walk home from school, wave goodbye to each other, and disappear inside their houses. They aren’t emerging an hour later after finishing homework to pick up where they left off the day before with Red Rover or Crack the Whip. And, where’s a dang lemonade stand when you need one?
“If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger.”
-Frank Lloyd Wright
I realized something after seeing my own behavior mirrored by my daughter. After “the shoe incident,” one of her favorite games continues to be holding up my phone or anything that remotely resembles a phone to her ear. She toddles around the kitchen babbling into the TV remote or a juice box. When she gets her sticky, little hands on my iPhone, she knows how to unlock it with the swipe of her miniature index finger. Attempting to take the phone away from her is comparable to prying the microphone out of the hands of Kanye West at the VMAs. It doesn’t take long to realize after being around a child that he or she will copy everything you do. I quickly apprehended the culprit for my daughter’s phone obsession, and that culprit is me.
The neighborhood gang has been hijacked. A new alpha moved in, and he is known by a multitude of aliases, including: X Box, Wii, Mac, PSP, Television (goes by TV for short), Gameboy, and more. Technology has a daunting grip on children because we hand them over to him from the time they are born and ask him to babysit. I am so tempted every morning to plop my daughter in front of the TV, turn on Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse, hand over the cheerios, and lie on the couch for the proverbial “just a few more minutes” of sleep. Sometimes I do just that. I try to remind myself, though, that I want nothing more for my daughter than a good, old-fashioned childhood involving the neighborhood gang. So, I’m starting a campaign. Let’s bring it back by example and continue the neighborhood gang into adulthood. Let’s watch TV, surf the web, and scroll through our phones significantly less, and read a book, take a walk, and explore our cities more.
“Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.”
Just look around next time you are in a public setting. How many people are looking down at the 4.5 by 2.31 inch screens that rule our lives? Lookout’s Mobile Mindset Study found that 60% of American smartphone owners cannot let even an hour pass without looking at their phone. Our phones were invented to connect people to each other-- to foster more communication. Alexander Graham Bell is surely turning over in his grave at the thought of what cell phones are doing (or not doing) for society now. I myself have interrupted many a face-to-face conversation to respond to a trivial text or phone call. I am all too frequently removing myself from the present to capture the perfect picture, edit it, and post it for all to see. Consequently, the natural rhythm of the “post-worthy” experiences in life is repeatedly infringed upon by ringing and blinking notifications.
I grew up hearing the phrase: “people are more important than things.” It was my mom’s go-to line when my brothers and sister and I fought over something superficial. Things aren’t the miscreants; the problem with things is introduced when we readily grant them preeminence over people, including ourselves. So let’s unite in a movement. Let’s put people first and things last. Let’s live in the moment, look at one another in the eyes, learn what it means to truly communicate, value the experience more than we value posting it, go outside, and give our thumbs a break.
Let’s reassemble the neighborhood gang.