My special valentine this year is a beautiful ten-year-old girl named Madeline. She is a typical American kid confronted by a vastly different world than the one in which her parents grew up. Instead of inventing games and projects with other children, Madeline has an array of high tech gizmos to keep her occupied. While my transistor AM radio kept me up to date on the Beatles, Madeline’s small music machine holds thousands of tunes that are piped into her ear on demand. And she doesn’t even have to go to a record store! She can download any song she wants from a computer.
On the playtime front, Madeline has a Nintendo DS and Wii. Instantly, games appear on small and big screens. She doesn’t have to go bowling; she can simulate bowling using the Wii on her giant TV set. She can play tennis there as well. In fact, Madeline never even has to go outside to play sports. They are all virtually in her living room.
“Can Eddie come out and play?” That was my question after I knocked on my friend’s door back in Levittown. But Madeline has never said those words. She can call her friends on a cell phone and the playtime is arranged in advance by nervous parents who wouldn’t dare allow their young children to roam the neighborhood unattended. Madeline has fun on her “play dates,” but spontaneity is missing, as are gangs of kids. “Play dates” are usually limited to one or two urchins.
Despite all the tech and protection, Madeline has somehow developed interests in time-honored hobbies like horses, pop idols, and volleyball. Also, she has developed a deep sensitivity towards other people. Like many children, Madeline has seen her peers brutalized by cyber-bullying, and she finds it cruel and unacceptable. She even wrote a school paper about it.
But the tech revolution has also made it easier for Madeline to escape from reality. The machines allow her to avoid thinking about problems and solutions. With a flick of a finger, Madeline can enter a fantasy world where she doesn’t have to think about bad things or work out complicated situations. She can play emotional hide-and-not-seek all day long.
It is not easy for an adult to talk with Madeline; she prefers to be otherwise occupied, which is normal at that age. Her favorite phrases are “I don’t know” and “I don’t care.” Perhaps for Valentine’s Day I’ll get her a shirt with those words printed on the front and back. But, most likely, I’ll get Madeline a card that says I love her more than anything, or some such Valentine’s endearment. She is America’s future, and I know she will make this country better… machines or no machines.