How about screening our screen time?

Published 7:48 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2013

     The distance from my north Mississippi hometown to my grandparents’ residence on Chippewa Street was some 226 miles, a five-hour trek back when the speed limit mantra was “Stay Alive – Drive 55.”

     I calculated it in something other than miles and minutes, though. Sprawled out on the bench seat of my family’s Cutlass Supreme, I measured the distance in pecan log consumption. Chiclets chewed.

     And on particularly wonderful occasions, Morrison’s Trout Almondine orders. My feelings for fish were nothing compared to my feelings of maturity as I called out that entree across the cafeteria line.

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     Memories of those road trips are quite different from what my children experience today during car confinement. While I wore out the bindings of my library’s Nancy Drew collection, they spend time with screens – the pull-down screen that was such a selling point at the car lot, the hand-held screen that offers them constant communication, the lap screen that allows them to “work” while they ride. 

     It brings a whole other dimension to parenting, this world of electronica.

     In our household alone, we have a PC, three laptops, two tablets, four smart phones, and one of those smart devices that does everything except make calls. Oh, and I forgot the gaming console. It’s a version or two behind, but I guess it counts.

     That’s a lot for a mom to monitor.

     And it’s not just the United States of Entertainment that’s dealing with this issue of connectivity on steroids.  According to a recent U.N. report, six of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones – but only 4.5 have a toilet.

     That’s an interesting take on technology adoption, don’t you think?

     Makes me wonder. Does the man in Tunisia fit into the average, checking his phone more than 150 times a day? Does his daughter send and receive more than 3,000 texts a month, like her American counterparts?

     This barrage of battery-powered stimuli can become an addictive narcotic. Think words like “addictive” and “narcotic” are a bit strong? Try taking it away – the phone, the tablet, the game controllers – and note the reaction.

     Examine our dependence even further by depriving Grandma of her Weather Channel and the college coed of his PowerPoint presentation.

     What, there’s something wrong with PowerPoint? MIT Professor Sherry Turkle makes an argument against even this seemingly harmless tool when used in academia: “PowerPoints are about simple, communicable ideas illustrated by powerful images, and there’s a place for that. But that isn’t the same as critical thinking.”

     Critical thinking? Does Ms. Turkle actually think we have time for that when we’re checking our phones every six-and-a-half minutes?

     Some describe this obsession with electronics as the worst form of slavery, because there are no chains involved, just cords we plug in. Ourselves. They suggest we try a “media fast.”

     Our family went on a media fast of our own in 2003 when we cut out cable, and eventually every other means of television reception. The decision rocked our world with the potency of a Toni home perm.

     Could the kids live without the Disney channel?

     Could I live with kids who were without the Disney channel?

     Surprisingly enough, we did, and we continue to. We found that it wasn’t so much about taking something away, as it was about putting in something different.

     So here I am 10 years later, thinking about screen time again, although now it’s the touch-type variety. I’m pondering push-button reality. Meditating on a media-captivated society. And finding it’s harder to figure out than inscriptions in my old high school yearbook.

     Until I do, I’m happy to see that my 12-year-old has her own stack of Nancy Drew books in the car these days. As we cross Chippewa Street on the way to piano, she’s captivated with River Heights, Ned Nickerson, and bungalow mysteries.

     I, on the other hand, am lost in my own thoughts. Turning into Morningside Music Studios, I’m formulating an idea to cut teen texting in half, at least with girls: How can we get AT&T to charge extra for exclamation points?!!!!!!

     Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at