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October 8, 2012

Lisa Madras: I love enlightenment, but I long to go back in black

NEW CASTLE — Could you survive a day without electricity?

Heck, I can't imagine surviving a few hours without electricity.

Well, I take that back — just a little bit.

I have been without electricity when storms downed the power lines, and for a few days camping in the woods here and there. But even on those occasions, I still had the charge to my cell phone, and the kids had their DS's and Kindles.

This question is one that popped into my head because of a new TV show I caught the first few episodes of recently. "Revolution" takes place 15 years after all electricity mysteriously disappears from the earth. People still carry around iPods with never-again to be heard music, and cell phones with captive pictures of lost loved ones. Weeds grow rampant over buildings and playgrounds, and transportation is on horseback or by foot.

My children often ask me how I survived a childhood without computers and cell phones. To be honest, I have a hard time answering them, because I'm so used to modern conveniences that I can hardly recall the "dark ages" anymore.

Their eyes grow round with wonderment when I describe phones attached to the wall by cords, and using the card catalog to find books at the library. A younger co-worker was enthralled last week as I described word processors and the early days of computers that required programming languages like Pacal and Fortran to execute the simplest of maneuvers.

I wouldn't go back to those days even if I were given a chance to start my life all over again. Sure, I loved summers spent catching tadpoles in the creek, and I wouldn't trade the thousands of books I read for even the most entertaining of video games. But I'm a spoiled creature now, and I love having the entire world just one click away on my cell phone.

That being said, though, my favorite times, even in this electronically-charged world, are the ones where no outlets are necessary: bonfires in the back yard, Christmas cards from distant friends, and evenings spent under the bed covers with my kids telling me about the day's events and their dreams for tomorrow.

I imagine the world would be a better place if we had a mandatory black-out time, even if for just an hour a day. We do that in my house every once in a while, but not as often we should because of crammed schedules and the promise of distraction from the television or the newest hip-hop album. Even the microwave calls us entreatingly from the kitchen, "Heat up a snack ... fill that hole with food ... don't talk about your feelings ... this is so much easier!"

Sadly, we're teaching our children that entertainment is a necessity, all day, every day, instead of the luxury it was meant to be. They learn it because WE do it. Stressed about work, the bills, the upcoming week? Pop in a movie and get away from it all. Can't fall asleep because you're worried about something? Put some music on and block it out.

Keep that cell phone close at hand in case someone, somewhere has to send you the latest joke RIGHT NOW. Heaven forbid we get to the root of our problems when it's just so much easier to block them out.

I sound angry when I talk about these things because I am. I'm angry at myself for letting it happen to my family, and I'm angry at everyone else for doing the same. School shootings, bullying, dysfunctional families, a government that controls and oppresses us with our own need for all things material — this is what we've let happen to ourselves by allowing our modern conveniences to make us lazy; not lazy physically, although that's a problem, too, but lazy emotionally and intellectually. We don't know how to cope with our problems anymore, because we've become so good at avoiding them.

I'd love to see how "Revolution" develops. Will people return to a simpler way of life, where we actually communicate with each other, put some effort into interacting face-to-face, redevelop the morals and integrity that have been swallowed up by the convenience of "not knowing any better?"

I don't think I'm going to find out, though, unless someone fills me in at the water cooler at work, because I think I've found the perfect timeslot to spend a little face-time with my kids. The great thing about modern convenience is that it's just as easy to click it off as it is to click it on.  

And that means I'm just a simple click away from something much more wonderful. Will my kids fight me on it? Probably, at first. But in truth, I think all of us would be surprised at how desperately our kids actually crave our undivided attention. They THINK they like video games and television shows more than a boring old conversation with mom or day, but that's only because it's what they're used to.

All we have to do is give them, and ourselves, the chance. Maybe someday we can have our own revolution.

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