I could see it glowing before I even opened the box. Golden rays of light, peeking from the edges of the packing tape that held the small box closed, calling me to rescue it from its confines. It had a mission, after all, and I was more than willing to help fulfill it. Gadget addiction has always been a problem for me and my new ‘streaming stick’ held the promise of a sugar rush like no other. Watching entire seasons of TV shows would soon be possible on a third TV in my house. The angel on my shoulder was muttering something about reading a book before I brushed him away. The devil on the other side wanted me to binge on Orange Is the New Black and I was happy to oblige.
I realized several years ago I have a problem. The revelation came between seasons four and five of Dexter (or was it Weeds?) I glanced over at the bookshelves in my living room where literary classics and modern masterpieces had become mere props to impress my friends. They were weeping for me. I ignored them. My wife tried an intervention last Christmas with an e-reader. Ha! I downloaded a streaming movie/TV app on it so I could watch my shows in rooms with no television. And to make matters worse, my world soon seduced her, too. I found the evidence when I checked the viewing history of my streaming account. She’d become a How I Met Your Mother junkie!
So there we were, day after day, night after night, abusing our senses with the true opiate of the masses. Kneel before Philo Farnsworth! But one fateful afternoon I discovered my little girl had been sucked in. Like Heather O’Rourke in the early 80s flick Poltergeist, she was sitting, transfixed, watching episode after episode of iCarly. I was horrified! I was swinging through trees like Tarzan when I was her age. My bicycle was a worthy stand-in for the Batmobile! An empty kitchen appliance box became my rocket to the stars! I READ BOOKS!
I waited for the last episode of her show to end and turned off the TV. She protested but I calmly explained to her I had a better idea as I sat down next to her. Opening one of the books from my shelf, I made a deal with her: Read me the first chapter out loud and we’d get ice-cream.
And she began. And it reminded me of third grade, sitting on carpet squares on the floor of an old un-air-conditioned school building, struggling with big words, taking turns reading with my classmates.
A LONG TIME AGO, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the big woods of Wisconsin…
We haven’t banned her from the TV. Unlike some parents, I don’t believe television is necessarily a bad thing and books weren’t a totally alien concept to her to begin with. She reads them often. But with the easy access of effortless video entertainment, I can easily see how kids today might grow up never having read the classics and I’m determined not to let that happen to mine. Once she becomes a spirited tween from reading Hunger Games, or a revolutionary teenager from reading Orwell’s 1984 or Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, she’ll thank me.
As for me? Well, last night I figured out how to view all of HBO’s original programming on demand. I’m such a lost cause…
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