“WHAT?!” That’s usually the first reaction people give me when they find out I grew up without cable television. The conversation would include some, “What did you do then?” and the occasional, “Do you even know what ‘SpongeBob’ is?” The list goes on between disbelief, shock and interrogating me to see how I lived my unplugged life. It was as if they felt sorry for me for missing references and having a childhood that lacked me sitting in front of a screen. I may have had a lapse in cartoon knowledge, and even today I still do, but I like to think I turned out normal. I was not really addicted to television. Yes, I loved my basic shows like “Arthur” and “The Simpsons,” but I did not have Nickelodeon, Comedy Central or Disney Channel. It made me feel like some type of alien, a minority that was not up to date on the cool new shows with the plethora of channels at my whim.
Those that grew up without TV can relate. Many of my friends found it to be a blessing. We seemed to spend more time outside, having play dates with friends and reading good books. In my family, we would play softball in the backyard or basketball in the driveway after dinner instead of plopping down in front of the TV. We saw it as an occasional privilege, rather than some amenity that was always at our disposal for our entertainment.
But now that beneficial detachment is gone. It seems that those born in the early ‘90s can still appreciate a time when not everything was plugged in. We were not surrounded by technology in every realm, be it school, home or relaxation. We were not as dependent upon our devices, but rather we were left to our own. We grew up with cassette tapes, VHS movies, Walkmans and the beginning of cell phones. Slow and bulky, those technologies were easy to put away. If you wanted to call someone, you actually had to know where they were, none of this “Dude, where are you?” If you wanted to check the time, you looked at your watch. And we definitely did not do the “pocket dance” (front pocket, front pocket, back pocket, back pocket, “found it!”) to find our phones before we left the house. Those born in the later ‘90s, however, seemed to be “on” all of the time.
Elementary-school kids have the latest iPhones, video games and computers. There was never a “No Cell Phone” policy in my 5th-grade classroom, but now there is. Younger kids always need to be on something, whether they are playing a game, finding some new information or watching some goofy video on YouTube. If the devices are taken away, their boredom increases and their attention span decreases. Short videos, grabbing technology, flashy images and modes of information are how these children grew up learning to read, write, listen and comprehend. Those of the early ‘90s grew up differently, and now there is a disjunction within our generation.
We are extremely social beings. Anthropologically speaking, the reason we have such large brains could be due to the Social Brain hypothesis. This states that ancient human ancestors that began to live in larger groups with patterns of social structures showed greater brain growth of the neocortex. Humans need to be social. It is literally in our DNA. But trying a detox every once in a while can help us relax and disconnect from the rest of the world and the websites and devices connecting us all.
Can you appreciate the silence? Have you spent time without your computer, cell phone or TV for more than a day? When was the last time you wrote a paper or did an assignment by hand? It is wonderful never feeling like you have to report to someone, check in on the latest e-mails or texts. You even have the chance to perfect your penmanship! It takes a little time to get used to, but that freedom — that chance to focus on only what is in front of you and not what is in your pocket connecting you to someone else — is wonderful.
Sara Shamaskin can be reached at email@example.com.