Technology may cost our children their imaginations

By David Broyles

August 1, 2013

I had one of those wonderful sideline conversations that didn’t make it to print recently with Angela Llewellyn of the Mount Airy Public Library. I was there to give some coverage of the annual drama camp which was under way with gusto this week.

We talked about the Dewey Decimal Players, some recent plays, a bit of drama camp history, a general discussion of the goals of the camp and the much maligned art of stagecraft and then we talked about how as children one of the best activities for Llewellyn was “tending.”

Beg pardon? Yup. I heard it correctly. As children one pastime that never got old was tending.

“You know,” said Llewellyn. “We’d say to each other….let’s tend to be pioneers.” The light went on in my noggin. I remembered as a child playing cowboys and Indians, army, superheroes. Sadly, Llewellyn confided she fears pretending is destined to be yet another lost art.

In an earlier column I referred to draft horse advocate Jason Rutledge and his phrase cultural neutron bombs , which he then used to describe the impact of tractor technology on farmers. Here was another one of those rounds which had landed and changed a part of life still alive and well, if only in the memories of us old kids.

An earlier spontaneous newsroom discussion had centered on if we would ever see the likes of another Groucho Marx. Our impromptu conclusion was trials and tribulations made those artists great.

Perhaps it was the performance atmosphere herding me to a conclusion, but the similarities between technology and a magician clicked in my mind. I have long admired not only the skills of a magician but the understanding of humanity the art requires. This knack for misdirection and how it could be used for good or ill. To borrow from “Star Wars,” there is a dark side.

It’s like learning the nature of honeybees. A little smoke to cover my scent, pick the right temperature, weather and time, don’t dress in dark colors like a bear, move slow and most times you can roam all through a hive without getting stung. Any good magician knows well in advance which card is going to be the one you settle on even though it seems you get to choose.

The same thing has happened with technology. Kids have well-defined games, movies and television where they simply plug in and play. It is spooky to me how many of the new “you might like” suggestions innocently offered by your computer are based on deep knowledge both inductive and deductive mathematically to guide you to the next choice.

The earlier forms of mental wizardry were feared in times past. A good magician can leave you looking silly in front of God and audience. Perhaps the computerized conjurers are not so considerate. Regardless, it boils down to less opportunity for children to imagine, to come up with unique answers.

I keep hoping the curtain will be pulled away and this is just another innocent illusion. “You might like” doesn’t seem so friendly to me now.

David Broyles is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at dbroyles@civitasmedia or 719-1952.