Playtime is over

     I love spending time with my grandchildren. Since virus restrictions have eased somewhat with regard to family gatherings, I am able to see them a couple of times a week. They are at great ages in formative stages, age 3 (almost 4) and age 5 (almost 6). 

     During a recent visit, I tried to come up with some creative ways to keep them entertained. I thought I would save Disney-Plus as a last resort. We had an hour to fill before dinner. After numerous requests from the children, I broke down and broke out the Play-Doh. (I only hesitated because cleaning up after playing with Play-Doh is never-ending and the last hardened bits solidify into a substance not found in nature). I set up a protective board on the kitchen table and gathered the containers of multi-colored “clay” so we could start sculpting our masterpieces.

     Before we began, I was taken aback when my granddaughter asked me to Google a video on my phone. 

     “What for?” I asked.

     “So I can see how to make something with Play-Doh.”

     For an instant I didn’t know how to react. Did she really just say that?

     “No,” I answered. “You don’t need YouTube videos to show you how to make something with Play-Doh. That’s what your imagination is for.”

     With the clay we proceeded to form a variety of animal shapes and an assortment of multi-colored pasta because Italian food is the easiest thing to make with Play-Doh. 

     As our creations morphed from one shape to another, I started thinking about how we have become so dependent on technology that we can’t even perform the simplest task without defaulting to the internet to show us how to do things.

     I shouldn’t have been surprised. This new generation of children enjoys sitting motionless with iPad in hand while watching videos of other kids playing and having fun. The last time I visited my grandchildren, my granddaughter was watching a YouTube channel showing little girls playing with Barbie dolls. There was no interaction with the screen, just a blank look on her face as she watched and listened to someone else playing and having fun. Things got more surreal when my grandson began watching a video of someone named “Blippi” playing on swings and slides in an empty park. “Blippi” was an adult man dressed in a bizarre outfit made of primary colors. First he demonstrated swinging on swings, then spinning on the merry-go-round, then sliding down a slide clearly not made for someone his size. He was having so much fun between his fits of uncontrollable laughter. Thank God the playground was empty. “Blippi” videos are no longer welcome on any screens when I’m around even though Blippi’s channel has almost 9 million subscribers. For older teens, there are countless internet channels where they can watch people play video games. Why learn how to play a game yourself when you can watch someone play it for you? 

     The more I thought about it, I realized maybe I was guilty of the same thing. I’ve used YouTube to help me out with a number of household repairs. I had to Google “How to replace a rear tail-light” on my car, which was easier than I thought. I watched an instructional video on how to install a digital thermostat at my home (okay that one I had to watch a few times). Sadly, I’ve even watched videos on how to cut open a squash, how to cook salmon and how to grill a steak.

I’ve watched internet videos to pick up techniques for making digital art. I’ve watched dozens of tutorials on how to paint and draw electronically. Some are interactive as I try to recreate what the artist is doing. How-to lessons are a step up from just watching someone doing something. Admittedly, I have been mesmerized while watching internet videos of artists drawing and sketching as they talk about their technique. 

     Maybe my granddaughter was right after all. Maybe consulting a video on how to construct the perfect Play-Doh sculpture isn’t a bad idea after all. Still, I’m glad we didn’t have to rely on the internet to show us how to play. We didn’t need to recreate Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Our unidentifiable animals and purple raviolis worked out just fine.

 

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