I suppose it is appropriate that this post comes a few days after Andy Rooney’s death. Mr. Rooney was notorious for his weekly rants on 60 Minutes, delivering them in the crotchety, whiny manner of an old guy who doesn’t really give a rip. You see, something set me off today, and so now I am going to go all Rooney on you and deliver a rant of my own. It’s about attention spans. And how so many people (especially older children) seem to lack one. Normally I would not get too worked up about such things. However, when a lack of attention span threatens good manners, self-discipline and respect of others, it crosses the line and just makes me a big crankypants.
Now the thing that set me off today was a performance by the Oshkosh Youth Symphony Orchestra. My fifteen-year-old stepson was performing along with other area kids ranging from middle school to college age. These kids were going above and beyond their band class; many of them traveled from miles away to do something pretty incredible. So imagine my irritation when a girl about 10 years old sat in front of me and played games on her DS (portable gaming device) during the entire concert. Really? Regardless your taste in music, seeing a symphony in person is pretty amazing, not to mention just plain loud at times. Yet this girl kept her eyes peeled on the little lit-up screen the entire time.
This bothers me on several levels. First of all, the fact that she had the device with her showed that she automatically assumed she would be bored. Secondly, she could not tear herself away from the device for one short hour? Thirdly, why did her mother allow this? She was sitting right next to her daughter yet did nothing to stop this absurdity. Surely they were there to watch a brother or sister perform in the orchestra. Therefore, you do the right thing and show the proper respect to that sibling. You listen. You watch. You congratulate them on a successful performance or a strong effort. In my case, you went to watch your older brothers play YMCA football every Saturday morning in the fall. It was cold. It was long. It was boring at times. But I survived, and I surely didn’t have an iPod Touch in hand so I could play Angry Birds.
To be fair, we were all warned about this, weren’t we? As soon as MTV-style television and the internet arrived, we were constantly fed short tidbits of information; our brains were interrupted and distracted, and we were doomed to become fidgeting citizens who got bored easily. I see it happening all around me, and I’m not even an A.D.H.D. specialist, nor a cranky 92 year-old journalist. I do know that I’m guilty of loving plenty of mindless TV shows, some of which insult my intelligence as well as my attention span. However, I’d like to think that I can go on a long car trip without a DVD player, a Smartphone or a portable gaming device. Our kids know better than to ask for the DVD player when we are simply driving to Oshkosh. It’s twenty minutes! Talk to all the people (myself included) who took long family road trips with only the radio, conversation, and the ABC game. Excitement was finding a small town with a Dairy Queen so you could score the letter ‘Q’. Heck, my husband’s family once took their seven kids, a friend and the family dog on a trip to the Black Hills. (I do have to question their sanity a bit though; seven kids are enough, so what would possess them to bring another kid and a dog is beyond me).
Another common display of the poor attention span would be restaurant dining. How often do you see families out to dinner, only to see the kids texting the entire time? Again, why aren’t parents speaking up and taking their phones away? Not only is it anti-social, it’s rude to ignore your fellow diners. It’s basically telling them that they aren’t worth the effort. I wonder how these kids are going to have the patience to sit in a lecture hall and take a two-hour test. Trust me, kids, it will happen one day. Just you, a writing device, and a little blue testing booklet for 120 minutes. Unless of course universities build in snack breaks. And then you’ll really see me lose it.