If you know a teenager, you understand what I'm talking about when I tell you it's not uncommon to be in the middle of a conversation and have a cell phone come between you -- figuratively and physically -- while the aforementioned teenager commences texting, all the while swearing he or she is listening to you and isn't distracted by the phone whatsoever. To me, it's holds the rudeness equivalent of whipping out a newspaper and holding it up in front of your conversational partner in the middle of a discourse. My daughter disagrees.
But according to an MSNBC.com article publshed today, Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, not only agrees wholeheartedly, he says things like gardens also feel my pain. He's even written a book about it.
Because of all the texting, blackberrying, MP3 listening and cell phoning, "Most of the groves, courtyards, gardens, fountains, artworks, open spaces and architectural complexes have disappeared behind a cloaking device, it would seem," Harrison writes about the seemingly unnoticed ammenities on campus in his book 'Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition.'"
According to a study cited in the article, "adults spend an average of nearly three hours a day interacting with computer screens. Add TV viewing and you get a screen time of about 8 1/2 hours." I did a little number crunching of my own and found this to be true. Even if we're not watching TV for 5 hours a day, it's usually blaring in the background in at least one room in the house. That's noise pollution, pure and simple. When do kids get to ponder anything? How can anyone mull things over if there's always a phone call, text, website, video game or TV show looming? When do they go out and look at the clouds? I agree this can be catastrophic to us personally -- and to civilization. And, no, I don't think I'm exaggerating.
It's not just kids, either. My husband hasn't taken a vacation in years that didn't involve at least some answering of emails. My favorite was watching him reply to a barrage of "urgent" questions that came in on his Blackberry while navigating the crowd at Disney World. Is there even a such thing as a vacation anymore?
And back to the garden: If things continue at this rate, who's going to have the time? I barely do, and I grew up in a world where children's television was limited to a few hours on Saturday mornings and an hour or so after school. For today's children, all these distractions and instant gratifications are normal. There's no such thing as waiting for the library to open on Monday when the internet can provide all the answers one needs on Sunday night. So how can we expect kids to plant a seed and wait for it to grow? Or to spend a couple of hours pulling weeds, which to me affords a great opportunity for solitude and self-reflection.
Harrison warns we are losing the ability to connect to our environment. We can only fully appreciate a garden after giving it our complete attention and allowing ample time to notice all its intricacies. "For the gardens to become fully visible in space, they require a temporal horizon that the age makes less and less room for," he is quoted as saying.
One day very soon, today's kids will be grown. And overstimulation, self-absorption and multi-tasking will be a big part of who they are. I can't predict what that will mean for our culture, but I do fear all the gardens will fade away.
What do you think?