Commentary

Today's Zombie: Tomorrow's Multitasker

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, whose 1938 charter commits the Sydney-based professional group to "research designed to eliminate or alleviate human suffering," has issued a report warning of the mental and physical risks of electronic media on your offspring.

Arriving at the stunningly obvious conclusion that "television, computer games and the Internet have replaced normal social interactions," the outfit says that this can "cause a severe impact on mental and physical well-being" of kids whose parents don't monitor (read: limit) how much time they spend in front of same.

Auckland University Public Health lecturer Dr. Shanthi Ameratunga says that by the time a child finishes school, they will have spent more time with electronic media than in the classroom.

Had Dr. Ameratunga attended public schools in many parts of the U.S. she might not have concluded this was a bad thing.

Not knowing Dr. A's exact age puts me at something of as disadvantage, but I suspect if she was anything like you and me she spend every possible waking hour glued to the down-under equivalents of: "The Lone Ranger," "Disneyland," "Amos & Andy," "Captain Kangaroo," "American Bandstand," "The Little Rascals," "Gunsmoke," "Ed Sullivan," "The Mickey Mouse Club," and "I Love Lucy."

Back then, as television morphed from a novelty into the dominant information and entertainment medium, there were dire predictions that kids would go nuts because they weren't 1) reading books any more or 2) because TV took away the imagination required to follow radio stories. Dismissed as "chewing gum for the eyes" by Frank Lloyd Wright who knew as much about TV programming as David Sarnoff knew about axonometrics, it follows that the entire baby boom generation ought be stumbling around the planet in a zombie- like state muttering things like "It doesn't look good Kemo Sabe." or "Y? Because we love you."

If you have teenaged kids, you automatically pre-qualify for this condition, but the fact remains that endless hours of TV did nothing more than condition us to accept stereotypes, watch news clips rather than read news stories, and make certain that we allowed nary a ring around the collar.

TV brought us together as a nation in times of great tragedy, it enabled us to decompress in our homes often with our families, and it taught us that the skies were friendly, that bread built bodies in 8 ways and that although you couldn't ever coax it out, that there was a tiger in your tank.

Now, decades later, we are surrounded by far many more electronic devices than our kids and are learning that indeed most them can drive you crazy while pretending to make our lives easier. It is not the Sponge Bob generation I fear for, it is rather for us. We have proved that nearly unlimited childhood hours in front of the idiot box was not the mental set back it was predicted to be. And although our media of choice have shifted dramatically away from network TV, we are still seated in front of some kind of glowing screen upwards of 15 hours a day.

While the Internet and cell phones and streaming video technology have yet to play out their full impact on our collective psyche, I suspect we will adapt and survive to when we sit in elder care facilities watching CDs or streaming videos of "The Lone Ranger," "Disneyland," "Amos & Andy," "Captain Kangaroo," "American Bandstand," "The Little Rascals," "Gunsmoke," "Ed Sullivan," "The Mickey Mouse Club," and "I Love Lucy."

The kids? They will grow up differently thanks to all the electronic media so feared by Dr. Ameratunga, but in the end will also adapt and live to sit in elder care and watch reruns of Sponge Bob.