iPads and laptops make us more productive, but have they become too pervasive? (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
In this age of endless digital gadgets, entertainment has become so unavoidable that boredom is beginning to look really good. I have seen this coming as headline news on flat-screen TVs increasingly interrupts my boredom in hotel elevators, at gas pumps and in other formerly humdrum places. Now the texting and video invasion is coming after our children and grandchildren.
Item: Disney has announced “the first western for preschoolers,” titled “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West,” will debut exclusively on its 24-hour WatchDisneyJunior.com website and app, beginning Nov. 24 — and later come to TV.
As a member of the generation that had to rush home from grade school to watch the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in black-and-white, I am impressed. So are companies that are seeking business opportunities. More than half of households with kids now own a tablet, says the Disney/ABC Television Group press release, compared to just over 40 percent in 2012.
Item: Disney’s stated target market of ages 2-to-7 looks like old-timers in a new study from the nonprofit research group Common Sense Media. It found that 38 percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, like an iPhone or tablet computer — an increase from 10 percent just two years ago.
Item: Not everyone is thrilled. A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its earlier recommendation that parents keep tablets, smartphones and other screens away from children under age 2 and prudently limit their screen time in the years after that.
Under age 2? There’s some advice I never expected to hear. But just as my son mimicked me by reaching for the TV remote and aiming it at the TV before he could walk or talk, today’s toddlers are increasingly tech savvy. One wonders, what next? Digital implants at birth? Robo-kids?
Enough, say some parents. Among today’s most prominent is comedian Louis C.K., born Louis Szekely. His five-minute rant against smartphone culture on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in September has received more than 5.7 million hits on YouTube. He appears to have struck a nerve. “I think these things are toxic, especially for kids,” C.K. said, in explaining why he’ll never let his daughters have iPhones.
One problem that he sees is hijacking of empathy by incessant texting and tweeting in one’s formative years. “Y’know, kids are mean,” C.K. says, “and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out.”
I do not recommend unsupervised boredom for teens, considering how often too much time on their hands can lead to mischief. But amid today’s endless information and entertainment flood, it does not hurt us to take time to look inside of ourselves and just think. Learning to live with silence is part of growing up, too.
Clarence Page writes for The Chicago Tribune.