Armchair entertainment

Divagating by Gwen S. Clarke

A widely-read newspaper columnist recently touched on a point that keeps hitting me between the eyes. In pontificating about Americans’ habits, he remarked that the country “is entertaining itself into inanimation.”

An apt observation in light of the current stampede to possess a new $20 doodad that essentially twiddles our thumbs so that we don’t have to bother doing it for ourselves. I am NOT kidding.

Between that gadget and the dexterity that thumbs acquire as they broadcast urgent messages around the clock via personal devises, is evolution going to increase the size of these opposable members—and will the other eight digits atrophy, or just form a webbed easel to better grasp said “smart” phones?

I didn’t set out to do a rant on something that the contour of our surrounding mountains has rendered beyond my grasp—thankyouverymuch! It’s really not sour grapes, though. I celebrate the fact that I have an excuse not to have one.

Visiting friends and family seem to visibly unwind, play games, follow our favorite musicians, and read books, which offer themselves from almost every horizontal surface. Their alternative is a quarter-mile hike (uphill, both ways) out of our hollow, in search of that elusive “signal.”

The time-tested-and-approved occupation involving books and music finds validation by responsible studies and reportage. Bunches of scary data indicate negative effects from early television viewing by young children. At best, studies show that TV provides only “empty calories for a child’s growing brain.”

Despite marketing claims that certain infant/toddler-focused programs and videos promote brainy young’uns, the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends zilch, nada, NO television exposure to infants younger the age of two, and lays sleep problems, attention disorders, and lack of academic achievement directly on the floor in front of the boob tube. The Academy further cites studies that “babies learn better from people than from pictures” and who doesn’t wax nostalgic over memories of sitting on grandpa’s lap while he reads stories about Billy-goat Gruff or Heidi?

I admit to being a bit over the top about books, with historical precedent. After evidently wandering around in a fog for my earliest years, I acquired ugly, round, gold-rimmed glasses and a clear, sharp picture of the blackboard in the second grade. As my myopia progressed, and I needed stronger glasses at every turn, someone came to the conclusion that the hours spent with my nose in a book were “working my eyes too hard” and my reading was suddenly timed and limited.

Usually a compliant child, I rebelled and found solace with a flashlight and my book in a small storage closet under the stairs. In my reverie with “The Deep Woods” and “Hollow Tree Book,” my sense of time vanished. It wasn’t until I heard my multiple authority figures calling my name that I realized hours had elapsed and dinner was cooling on the table.

After the missing-child-panic died down, my mother (bless her) took a firm stand, realizing the draw that reading had for me, and decreed that I no longer had to read on borrowed time.

Patrick County musical dynasties are proof positive that the beat that taps the toe goes to the heart of the next generation, possibly before he/she is even born. Babes in utero are known to hear sound by 17 weeks, with a heart beat response to music by 26 weeks. By 38 weeks, there is even response to variations in rhythm.

Small, “loosely-controlled” studies point to newborns being calmed by hearing familiar rhythms—with the caveat that amniotic fluid can amplify low-pitched sounds; indicating that moms-to-be need to avoid ear-splitting rock, in addition to scotch-on-the-rocks.

All by way of saying that the best things in life are free—with a library card and an open-air concert.

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