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First world anxieties

we live in a diet culture. we diet. we’re on and off where food, info, relationships/partners and media are concerned. we binge on all of these.

finally, american technology is catching up to americans’ penchant for overdoing it and finding plenty of willing indulgers [teddy wayne in new york times 4 may 2014 in “life is streaming past you”].

media entertainment has given consumers far more freedom to watch, listen to, read. at any time, night or day. at breakfast, lunchtime, dinner. with or without friends and family present.

the paradox of choice (barry schwartz 2004) however argues that we surfeit our choices which engenders anxiety, dissatisfaction and even paralysis sometimes. this refers to the profusion of choices within a single set like picking out a salad dressing out of 175 varieties. or as one American noticed when he visited my ‘developing’ country for the first time: “no wonder you guys have good teeth! white teeth!” i’ll add to that the fact that people may be overweight, but not obese. ‘overweight’ like the caribbean or spanish men we see in photos, where only a protruding belly is evident, but the rest of the body, normal sized. this friend – who visited my country – upon walking the grocery isles, discovered that only one chocolate cookie could be found on the shelves, and not shelffuls of cookies. in america, there are shelffuls of all kinds of cookies, not just plain chocolate chip, but chocolate with pecan, chocolate chip with walnuts, chocolate chip with snicker doodles, and other cookies, too like butter cookies. and these butter cookies with as many variations as their chocolate chip counterparts. imagine a kid in a candy shop, swelling with desire to taste everything! think temper tantrums, vomiting, parents shouting ‘stop!’ or “no” or…

here in america, there are 62 episodes of “breaking bad” much like the shelvefuls of cookies or salad dressings adorning the isles. colorfully and plentifully. binge eating and binge watching. but just because we “can” watch all the time doesn’t mean we have to. daily lives become like food. anorexic, info rexic and now digitally bingerexic. if adults are bingeing and plugging up, who will tell [their] kids to unplug and consume slowly? the kid in the candy shop metaphor is in full force here!

many years ago, we didn’t see obesity coming nor lung cancer. we had food in plenty and cigarettes to match food’s abundance, and today we have mega problems on both, including death. in this millennium, we are witnessing the obsessive compulsive behaviors of kids and students shooting and murdering others. in this millennium, we are medicating kids for restlessness. why? one reason is that sedentary kids have sacrificed playing for sitting in their rooms and surfing, posting, chatting etc. valuable skills and weight losing measures are sacrificed from the lack of playing which entails movement and building social skills that kids have in other cultures which don’t medicate for ADHD. kids are supposed to be active. but here in america, we medicate kids to calm them dow and we even run short of drugs to medicate them because other bigger kids are taking these prescription drugs as recreation drugs in elite shcools and other places.

granted we don’t always know why some kids turn out shooters, but lately, we have been finding out too late on the kid-shooters’ Facebook page that there were clues to their developing personality. who was looking or monitoring these kids-who-turned-their-action-hero-game-figures? their personality was emerging from their bingeing on games, media [facebook, instagram, texting etc] but no one noticed and sometimes if they did, precious little was done as we learnt from adam lanza’s mother. or from klebold’s and harris’ penchant for goth subculture, metal music and violent video games. chickens coming home to roost. today, 90% of kids play video games, and 90% of games often include mature content and/or some form of violence. or parents have two or three jobs to make ends meet so they are not available to supervise kids. these kids’ patterns of likes, dislikes were emerging from you tubing, receiving news, tv, gamification [new word on webster dictionary. i wonder why?] posting and deleting friends and messages and photos. the constant sweet rush of info on kids and adults alike.

yesterday, I saw a child at the subway platform asking his mother and father what something was. we were at an outside platform with birds flying around, trees humming in the cool spring winds, people bustling about their way, litter flying everywhere as trains whirled past the station. the kid was pointing to some object, asking the father and mother something, but they were connected to their device and repeatedly ignored that child’s need and quest for learning, and instead modeling behaviors to that child to become ‘plugged’. nature, which provides vital learning steps for kids, was forfeited by these plugged-up parents and adults. and as i sat in the train towards home i see parents on netflix, iPad, iPhones, smartphones while kids ‘misbehave’.

but, if kids must binge in our bingeing culture, maybe parents could give them books or educational articles to binge on. that way they would be getting the same info we did as kids, but on devices. let them binge on binge-worthy stuff like the great works of prose and poetry, math, science, and NOT on violent games such as mortal combat ; dead space; medal of honor; call of duty black opps; castlevania; assassins, creed brotherhood; deadrising etc. all are for 18 years and older and include mature content. there are tons more. and there are many games that benefit an emerging mind and personality. strategy games like the kind we see in ender’s game where the kid is more adept at strategizing than adults. there are digital building blocks games. lego is great, but isn’t the only creativity tool.

so where does that leave people of free choice?

putting off responsibilities, procrastinating, forming bad habits? consuming media doesn’t help weak inclinations. there’s little discipline for the weak at heart, especially children left to do their own thing. how does a child know to piecemeal if adults can’t? why would a child in a proverbial candy shop stop and not gorge? why do we set age limits as a country and as parents if they weren’t needed?

but, there are some who recoil from this abundance of bingeing. some foreigners new to this culture can feel ‘left out of the conversation’ given all this bingeing. I remember reading an article by mira hair [monsoon wedding, kamasutra, namesake, reluctant fundamentalist, perez family, vanity fair etc] where she spoke about feeling left out in america. she spoke of the mania of spending tons of money to buy gifts at christmas which her culture didn’t do. she felt sad and lonely and missed ‘home’ because she couldn’t fit in into that bingeing lifestyle and it made it harder for her to assimilate into her host culture.

this ‘bingeing-on-free-choice’ world we inhabit is good for the rare kid who knows when and how to use and stop. but what about that kid who’s not disciplined which is a large sector of kids? who will supervise children left to their own ‘devices’? and who will supervise the adults [of those kids] left to their own “DEVICES”?


4 Comments

  1. Surekha Rao says:

    Living in NYC is so different from just twenty years ago with so many people focused on their smartphones. There is a loss of connection to the humanity that surrounds them . The little chats, and looks of friendliness are fewer now.

  2. rhettlowe says:

    I cannot help but feel that our American culture is perfectly suited to the destructive downsides of the “digital revolution.” America has always been a country that glorifies excess. Giant McMansions with rooms nobody uses, enormous gas-guzzling SUVs for each member of the family (which are helping to destroy the environment to boot), enormous megastores like Walmart and supermarkets with aisles by the dozen, all chock full of processed foods. Even God has been “supersized” and commoditized in America: evangelical “Megachurches” that can seat thousands all popping up all across the nation. In short, everything is bigger in America…especially the people! Thus, with the advent of smartphones, social media, and video games, America became the natural market for these products and the culture of binging that accompanies them. And you are so right to connect the twin problems of obesity and attention deficit issues in children to these practices. The constant rush of information from media is indeed like a sugar rush (or a drug rush.) The Millennial generation has come to expect instant gratification (they get frustrated if a website takes more than five seconds to open, furious if a movie or album takes more than a minute to download). With so many choices at their fingertips, they are indeed overwhelmed by the options. They want it ALL and they want it NOW. Furthermore, devoting several hours a day to social media and digital devices leads to a sedentary lifestyle. Thirty years ago, when school let out, children used to play together until sundown or until they were dragged home by their parents. Now, they return home, sit down (after sitting all day in school) and are totally isolated (and I don’t care how many Facebook friends they have; they are isolated). And, as you point out, the parents are often to blame. Children are sponges; they absorb what’s around them. If Mom and Dad have their iPhones out during family dinner or “binge watch” whole seasons of a TV series in one sitting, their kids are only going to learn from what they see. Adults must lead by example; the larger culture be damned. And taking a hard line with our young ones on this issue may seem cruel to them now, but in the future they will be grateful to the parent who removed the iPhone from their hand and replaced it with a good book! Let’s feed our minds, not our already overused mouths and overtaxed eyes.

    Une autre blog excellent!
    J’espere que l’ete sera une occasion pour vous bloguer plus souvent! ; )

    • Twin towers ( no intention to victims of 9-11), twin problems…reminds me of another twin: coffee and cigarette. Past friends told me that this combo was an absolute pleasure. A James dean kind of pleasure: cig and coffee in his faded blue jeans and white shirt. Today, that pleasure is claiming lives. What is not thought about properly seems to often masquerades itself later on as fatal. Things must be thought immediately. As a child we were taught to think twice before we leap. In everything. We were raised to consider much before taking that leap. A kind of karmic way of thinking. Today we are witnessing another student who killed 6 then himself. That keeps recurring… When are we- parents who don’t know what’s going on in kids’ lives and school as well as the govt- going yo start seeing patterns. We often “ignore” signs here. To our children’s detriment sadly. Is that what they mean by “sins of parents fall on children?”?

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