Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Closer But Farther

OK, I was planning to tell you how I ended up with an app on my phone that would alert me to all the Muslim prayer times. I figure I’m on the ‘No Fly’ list already from all the Cuban cigars I’ve brought home from Guatemala so I couldn’t get into any more trouble than I already am. I’ll tell you all about it next week when I have time to get the words lined up in the right order. It’s a thoughtful topic and I haven’t had time to think this week. The girls are here for Spring Break.

I have a better topic anyway. Sonia Gonzales suggested it to me when I posted the following picture on my facebook:


This is a picture of my granddaughters playing with each other.

They are eleven and nine years old. They know as much about the internet as I do. In fact, they are teaching me some things about Powerpoint that I didn’t know. In this picture they are playing a game they found on a website called Club Penguin. For this game each girl logs on and instead of surfing individually they play against each other. Each girl’s penguin runs around the map finding other friends who are known only special names like “Crazy Girl 7” or “Blue Sky Girl”. Some of these characters are total strangers but some of them they know at school.

I’ve asked all the right questions and they gave me all the right answers that make me feel they’re not going to end up meeting perverts posing as pre-teens and arranging to meet them at the corner ice cream shop.

But what this kind of game amounts to is that they each are on a laptop in the same room playing with each other. They could do this in separate rooms, even separate cities if they wanted to, but they enjoy sitting about six inches from each other.

As anti-social as this sounds, they would really prefer playing Monoply with me at our kitchen table. But, please dear God, I am not a board game grandmother. Their father or any of their Ohio relatives do boardgames. Sadly, the Elses do not. I don’t worry much about them becoming sociopaths because what the Elses do is build great bonfires and sit outside talking to each other. In fact, we are great talkers and communicators.

As of Wednesday morning we have had the television on sparsely and mostly on CNN watching news of Japan and the earthquake/tsumani/nuclear fires. Most of our time has been outdoors fishing or clearing brush. Sarah invented a new fireside dessert called S’moreos. We watched the septic tank get pumped out and re-built. Then we cleared more brush and cut down a couple of trees. We watched about a hundred vultures gather at dusk to spend the night in our woods.We lay on our backs on the fishing pier and watched the moon playing hide and seek with the clouds. The girls even caught a couple of fish. So, my granddaughters haven’t spent all their time on the computer.

But I understand Sonia’s point that we should put more thought into how our grandchildren spend their time. And kids aren’t doing this any more than adults. Our human interaction is changing. We text more than talk on the phone. We watch TV instead of reading books. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve called a friend and talked on the phone. Most of our human interaction is done by email if it’s not possible to do in person.

My grandmother’s generation visited each other in their homes. They sat in rocking chairs on the front porch after dinner every evening and people passing by on foot were invited to come sit a spell and talk. My generation talked on the phone for hours instead. My granddaughters are now playing games with people they have never even met. We are slowly moving farther and farther away from each other.

But I have to defend this new social tool because without it, Sonia Gonzales wouldn’t be able to e-mail me and suggest I write about it on my blog. Without Google translator I wouldn’t even know what she was saying. And we couldn’t see recent photos of each other’s grandkids so I could ask her about them over coffee when I visit Guatemala in October. If we are careful we can bring ourselves back to the table to sit face to face. But we will have to exert some effort to do it. In my case, it will require an airplane flight in the face of rising fuel prices.

The computer age has brought both good and bad. We just have to be vigilant; we will have to constantly consider the ways it has changed our lives, embrace the good and avoid the bad.

Gracias para tema, hermana.

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