Baseball was my first love. When I was little, my two best friends and I played pick-up games in my backyard for hours on end. One of my earliest memories is the first time one of us caught a batted ball out of the air (I was the one who caught it, FYI). We all scampered around to the front of the house to find my mom so we could share the monumental news with her. We must have been around four years old.
Later, I played little league baseball from kindergarten through sixth grade. When I was five, I remember getting trucked by an over-sized second grader as he was running from first to second base. In t-ball, I was once compared to Brooks Robinson for my sharp fielding at third base. I didn't know who that was. I was a decent contact hitter and a solid infielder. I never had much of an arm, and I could never hit for power. I walked away from baseball after sixth grade because I got the yips after being hit by wild pitches too many times during my last season.
But even more than playing, I loved watching. I was a huge Atlanta Braves fan. I was a fan when I was five years old and they were terrible. Dale Murphy was their star player; I named my first Chihuahua after him. Later, the Braves got good. One of my greatest regrets is that I fell asleep just before they came back from 2-0 down in the ninth inning to beat the Pirates in game seven of the NLCS in 1992. Sid Bream and Francisco Cabrera, you beauties! In between, I remember watching countless games on TBS. And I didn’t just watch bits and pieces, I watched from start to finish. Often, I even kept score in a baseball score book. You know the ones where you mark what happens for each at bat? Yeah, that.
Looking back now, my commitment to fandom seems remarkable. I was between five and eleven years old. I have a five-year-old now and he’s never watched a professional sporting event of any kind (at least voluntarily), let alone baseball, which has to be the most boring of the mainstream sports to watch. It’s so boring that I can’t remember the last time I watched even part of a regular season baseball game. I don’t know who any of the star players are now. I don’t know which teams are good and which teams are bad.
Strangely, as I’ve gotten older, my attention span has tended to decrease rather than increase. I believe this shift is largely driven by technology. I have a hard time watching a television show without checking my phone. My mind wanders easily. I’ve open and closed at least five different tabs on my computer while typing this paragraph.
This erosion of my ability to focus has occurred in a relatively short amount of time. And, for me, it happened completely during my adult years. Which makes me wonder, what is our technologically saturated, relentlessly connected reality going to do to children who grow up completely immersed in this new world?
As the parent of three children ages five and under, I often feel that I might be failing them in one important way: I don’t force them to encounter boredom enough. They have become accustomed to filling every speck of empty space with some form of technological background noise. There is television with breakfast, an iPad while we wait, and even in-seat entertainment during car rides.
Technology is often the path of least resistance. It’s much easier to get work done around the house—wash dishes, cook dinner, fold laundry—when the kids are engrossed in some form of entertainment. But, there needs to be balance. I need to get better at just switching everything off and telling the kids to create. Sure, there is complaining and whining, but not for too long, and what they end up creating is often pretty great.
For example, early one morning recently the boys asked me to get their suitcases down from their closets so they could pack. I didn’t ask any questions. They weren’t watching TV or playing on iPads, so whatever they had planned, I was cool with it. I went back to feeding the baby and puttering around in the kitchen. I could overhear them plotting and moving things around in the play room. There was plenty of loud clunks and a bit of arguing, but I left it alone.
Finally, they came running in and told me they were leaving on their trip.
“Where are you going,” I asked.
“To our camping place,” Jacob replied. “It’s upstairs.”
They scampered away and I waited a few minutes before checking in. I met them as they were just embarking on their climb toward the campsite.
Apparently, the packing went well. It’s important to remember the essentials.
So, my goal is to foster more of this creativity by allowing the space for it to happen. That means turning off the movies and games when we don’t really need them. As for me, I recently purchased some sweet pocket notebooks that I now routinely carry around in the breast pocket of my shirts. I know what you’re thinking and I agree. It is kind of a miracle that my wife can keep her hands off me long enough for me to write!
Previously, I always took notes on my phone, but doing that was a gateway to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and on and on and on straight into the social media vortex. I’m hoping that this small step back toward analog will help me up my productivity and regain some of my ability to single-task. Yes, single-task. As in the opposite of multi-task. I’m making it a thing.
One amazing outcome already: we didn’t use the car DVD players on the drive home from my mom’s house one night recently and all three kids fell asleep! That never happens anymore. If this is something curbing technology use can produce, then COUNT ME IN!
I will let you know how the rest of my rather mushy experiment with no firm parameters goes. But, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll just force my kids to sit down and watch entire baseball games. Maybe I’ll even dust off my old score book. If that doesn’t re-acquaint them with the power of boredom, I don’t know what will.
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