My mom is visiting for a week. It’s been 9 years since I’ve spent this much continuous time with her, and it has opened my eyes … got me thinking … and pushed me out the door to sit with my thoughts in our unfinished shed.
I’m trying to figure out if I’ve changed or if she’s changed … I don’t know. All I know is, I can’t live and work with my mother in the house.
The biggest issue? Television. From the moment she wakes it’s on, and I have to go in search of a quieter place so that I can hear my own thoughts. It’s her best friend. Yes, she really does say that. She turns it on and leaves it on all day. She eats in front of it, drinks in front of it, and turns down the volume to read in front of it.
As you can well imagine, her conversations are also all about it — the trick is to figure out who is real and who isn’t when she talks about someone named Kelly or that cute little kid named Josh. For my mother, television has transformed from a source of entertainment to a world in which she lives, mentally and emotionally.
We have tried to take her out a number of times in the past few years to visit family and friends, but she always gets fidgety, says she’s bored, and then stands at the door and wants to go home. She gets defensive about it and says she’s a hermit; it’s how she wants to live and doesn’t want to change.
Now I understand. She’s going home to be with her television. Real people and real conversations are no longer what she wants. She wants the TV people.
How many — especially the elderly — are living this way? How many have disengaged from our world to live in TV world?
It reminds me of an episode of Doctor Who. An alien manages to take over the television airwaves and proceeds to suck people’s energies out through the screen, turning them into zombies.
That may sound dramatic, but I am telling you … I’m witnessing it, right now, when I see what television has done to my mother:
~ When referencing “real life”, she lives in the past — because that’s when “real” ended and TV life began.
~ She doesn’t cope well with “real” and goes into a tailspin with the smallest of challenges.
~ Interacting with her environment is a source of strain and stress.
~ Her social skills have shrunk in a huge way, as has her understanding of current events and her ability to empathize with those around her.
She lives in a fantasy world. “Real” is just too hard. She must have started to live this way because she was lonely after her husband died. But now, even with people around her, television remains her first choice.
Admittedly, it’s been pretty frustrating. But as I set aside my initial reaction, write down what I’m seeing, and reflect on it all, it’s clear to me that what I see in my mother mirrors what we as a society need to address.
Whether it’s television or any other screen technology, it’s worth asking if we are all headed in the same direction. Could our constant connection to a virtual world be slowly rendering our ability to relate with the “real world” a vestigial facility?
I’m starting to consider my own habits and the shape of my days. Am I doing the same thing my mother is doing, just with my chosen technologies? How much time do we all spend in front of a screen?
When I factor in writing, reading, working, social media, texting, games … I may not be watching television, but my energies are getting sucked into the screen at an alarming rate.
I’m not alone. Just walk down any city street these days, and you are likely to see countless people walking with their face down, looking at a screen. Now, Niantic has capitalized on that with the introduction of Pokémon Go.
We are increasingly shifting our gaze, to view our world through a screen. Whether it’s the latest game or the virtual reality experiences that are ramping up to enter the mainstream, we are choosing a screen over what is right in front of us.
That tree over there? So much more interesting with a friendly Pikachu sitting under it.
The nature trail you used to enjoy on a breezy weekend afternoon? So yesterday when you can throw on a pair of glasses and stroll on the bottom of the sea.
What does it all mean for us and our relationships to each other … and to our surroundings?
My mother can’t see anything wrong with how she behaves, or at least she won’t admit to it. Are we all doing the same? It happens so slowly, perhaps we’re not even noticing and, really, we won’t know what to look for.
Let’s face it: we will never know who we would be, how we would be living, or what we would be accomplishing if technology had never moved into our lives.
I can’t help but wonder if I need to make some changes. And, if I do, what would that even look like? The fact that I don’t know the answer makes me uneasy.
I may be more sucked in then I care to admit.