The lost generation

A friend sent me a link to a website which basically lets you scroll across the globe and play radio station from any country. It’s just another everyday miracle in our fast changing world.

But to the kids of today, none of this is a big deal. It’s all taken for granted, and that is really sad. Because when the extraordinary becomes ordinary, life loses its zing, and everything becomes boring.

Think about it. The pure joy of a child popping a soap bubble for the first time is something that’s hard to match by anything else in the rest of his life. As we grow older, we reach the age of ‘been there, done that’ and it becomes progressively harder to find experiences that surprise and thrill us.

The information age has accelerated this process. Kids nowadays have everything available at the swipe of a screen, and are much harder to surprise and thrill. Where I was enthralled by that radio website, my 13-year didn’t even give it a second glance. And that makes me feel bad for her, as her world is slowly become limited to her screens.

When I was her age, I got my thrills and spills by cycling at breakneck speeds on roads, in the days when roads in India used to be safe for cyclists. Her thrills come from her fingers tapping as she dodges around obstacles in an endless runner game.

Grief to me was burying my beloved dogs, in the days when we still lived on farms with wide open areas where dogs could run and stretch and chase cats and chickens to their heart’s content, and nothing like the confined area of the little city house we live in now. Grief to my child is what happens on a TV screen to an actor.

Fear is the zombies getting her in Minecraft. Which is nowhere close to finding a real dog with slavering jaws coming at you with bad intentions for your ankles.

Pain for her is a gadget falling down and breaking whereas pain for us was falling down and skinning our knees and elbows.

Going out for her is mostly dressing up to go to the Mall and watch a movie. For us, it used to be the Great Outdoors, maybe battling the rough seas at the beach or an adventurous cycling trip to a nearby hill station.

Playing for us was hating to come indoors in the evening after being outdoors the whole day. Playing for her is some random game on the phone.

Her tastiest foods are processed chemicals that masquerade as edible foods, and are readily available on supermarket shelves. Ours were high hanging fruits whose taste increased in proportion to the difficulty of plucking them.

It’s not that my daughter hasn’t experienced these. My wife and I sensed the danger and we didn’t have a TV connection at home till my daughter was nine. I used to take her regularly to the beach as a child and she used to enjoy going for classes in swimming, tennis, dance, violin and singing, or just playing on the lawns with her friends.

But then we moved to a house next door to her cousins, and though we still didn't have TV at home, there was a one running all day at her cousins’ home. Nine years of work was undone in a jiffy, and she leaped from the screen free life into a screen filled one in a matter of months. Then her school friends went online, and Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram came into her life, and soon that was her life.

None of her many activities could compete with the fascination of the screens, and she dropped them one by one till now all she does in her free time is turn on some screen. It’s been six months since the one time bookworm even went to the library.

I think the Lucky Ones were those of us who live in today’s magical information era, but were kids in a world where computers and mobiles didn’t exist. We got to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Computers didn’t catch on in India till the 90s and mobiles didn’t take off till the first iPhone made its debut. Even TV was rubbish, with most of the detestable fare being propaganda for whichever political party was in power. That was a generation that didn’t have screens competing for its attention, and that simplified life to a great extent. If they wanted entertainment, they had to use their imagination and create themselves.

So they were quite comfortable with waiting somewhere with nothing to do as they had learnt to read the book of life. Like they could watch and take pleasure for hours in just watching a line of ants pottering along busily. As against the present generation who get the jitters if they are deprived of their screens for a few minutes.

Like all dark clouds, this one has a silver lining. I have an app on my phone that lets me turn off the wifi at home. If I want anything my kid to tidy up her room or get down for dinner or do almost anything, all I have to do is turn off the wifi.

Before long, I hear the clarion call, “Put on the WiFi.”

it’s an odd world

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