By ZACK PLAIR
Cable and Internet installation at my apartment are the final tasks before me to reinstate some sense of normalcy with my new life in Starkville.
Since moving in on Saturday, I’ve watched all my DVDs. I’ve even done some reading. But I’m missing my shows and the silence after my daughter Zayley goes to bed can be nerve-wracking. Of course, no one ever realizes how dependent they’ve become on technology, or how much time they devote daily to screened devices, until they’re waiting for the cable guy or they drop their cell phone in water.
Though I do not intend to continue this self-deprivation of “NCIS” and “Person of Interest,” it yielded a positive result Wednesday morning as I was getting ready for work. Zayley, who is 4, usually sits in front of the television on weekday mornings staring like a zombie at “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” or one of the four “Sam Sandwich” cartoons apparently ever made. She doesn’t move. She rarely interacts. She just looks, entranced, at the screen as if preparing to be physically sucked in.
Without that mechanism, the otherwise busy hands, feet and imagination of my daughter had to find something to fill the void. So she went into her room, grabbed a couple of Barbie dolls, a Rapunzel doll and a stuffed animal, and began playacting. As I listened, she assigned each player in this scene a distinct voice, personality and role. She was enjoying herself so much that I found it hard to tear her away so I could dress her for school.
My own childhood was filled with such moments. In fact, I remember my days of playing with G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtle action figures and building, and running my own little towns with Legos. In a pinch, I could take nothing more than a deck of cards and play imaginary baseball for hours.
That may sound a little strange, but it forced me to be creative, much more than the TV shows and gadgets for kids do today. I bought Zayley one such gadget, a Leap Pad, for Christmas. While it’s a neat little device with lots of games, bright colors and proven teaching tools, it’s still a screen that conveys finite possibilities and limits imagination. And if I would let her, Zayley would play on the thing all day.
On the other hand, when your imagination is purely in control of your playtime, it opens up infinite possibilities and scenarios to explore. You can be or do anything without the aid of a TV, a video game system or some computer.
Like I said before, ours won’t become an “unplugged” household with no TV, Internet or video games. That, to me, would be an extreme overcorrection, not to mention shutting the barn door after the cow got out. But Wednesday morning’s experience did open my eyes to the fact Zayley needs less time in front of a screen and more time in charge of her own imagination.
Zack Plair is the editor of the Starkville Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .