When I was a child, before Xbox One, 360, Nintendo, Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace (Is that even a thing anymore?), we did lots of cool stuff. I remember summers in the southern suburbs of Chicago, taking off with my best friend, Scott, and partaking on tons of adventures. We didn’t know it back then, but we were building the tools to steel ourselves against a shockingly dark future.
I realize complaining about social media on a social media platform is steeped in irony. Stick with me here, and I promise I’ll get to my point.
Back then, we were forced to use our imaginations. We built forts from snow, sticks, dirt, and even cinderblocks once (yes, it was majorly cool). They got progressively bigger as we got older. There were times we essentially moved mountains because we were kids out of school and had tons of free time. We didn’t do it to get another like on our Facebook status or Twitter follower … we did it because it fed our imaginations.
I remember exploring a big area of construction debris. Obviously, this was some sort of construction material dumping ground, but we didn’t see any signs telling us we couldn’t come in so it was our playground. We came across this great big holding tank; it was white as I recall. Partially buried under dirt, we knew we just had to get it out. We worked all day long. With tons of effort and a good investment in time, we got it free and rolled it to the creek. I don’t remember what we were trying to do with it, but I am not even sure that mattered.
The sights, the sounds, the feeling of accomplishment having moved this big ole holding tank from one end of the junkyard to another, the dirt, and the mud all combined in our imagination. It didn’t matter that we almost never brought our plans to fruition, it was the process and the mental equity we had in our designs that mattered.
I didn’t know it then, but I was becoming a writer. I’m fond of saying that school cannot make you a writer. It simply can’t. No matter how hard you try, there is no way a school can ever teach you imagination or give you life experience. Accomplishment for nothing other than accomplishments sake was our reward. And yes, there were occasional bumps and bruises. I’m often times shocked neither one of us ever got seriously hurt. Actually, Scott did break his arm once by falling out of a tree, but that was the most egregious of the injuries and it really didn’t slow us down after the cast was off. However, those experiences shaped my imagination to what it is today.
Years go by and things change. Last Sunday I walked into one of my church’s conference rooms and looked at the kids sitting around the table staring at their cell phones. None of them moved, or said anything. When I was their age I would have been out in the trees looking for monsters, ghosts, or something to build. There was no way you could convince me to sit around a conference room table. But there they were, like a science fiction show where the aliens give entertainment devices to an entire population to suck their brains out so they can take over the world. Apparently, they are starting with the children!
I hate to think that the great imaginations of our world are slowly slipping away. More importantly, I hate to think what the push of social media is doing to our children. I recently re-read the passage in Hamlet that goes,
“This above all-to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night, the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
—Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
Facebook, Twitter, etc., give us all a collective world where we don’t have to be truthful with ourselves and it is too easy to be false toward one another in those same environments.
Building forts out of mud, snow, and brick may not be the cleanest thing in the world to do; however, ultimately I like to think it taught us about communication, compromise, and working together. It taught us to dream and dream big for no other reason than someone didn’t tell us we couldn’t. I would have rather lived that childhood than the one our kids live today. I’m genuinely worried about the future of imagination, the future of dreaming, and yes, the future of writing, and writers.
-Your Humble Servant,