Here’s an idea. Tomorrow morning when you get to work, take a quick poll among your mates. Ask them just one simple question: What do they do once they get home every evening? Do they get into the kitchen to cook a simple yet nutritious meal for the family? Do they sit with their kids and help them with their homework? Or do they simply fix themselves a plate of whatever can be warmed up in the microwave and plop down on the sofa to watch TV?
I’m guessing that most people will fess up to the last option (if they are being truthful, that is, which is never a guarantee in these kinds of random, completely unscientific polls). Unless, of course, they are on the right side of thirty, in which case you will probably have to substitute computer in place of television.
Certainly, that’s how it is in my experience. Most evenings find me hunkered down in front of the TV, watching endless repeats of
or making my way through the box sets of such shows as
Brothers & Sisters
and the like. Or else, I’m glued to my laptop, cruising through news sites, gossip e-zines, media blogs and the like. Sometimes, when I feel like a bit of multi-tasking, I even watch television with a laptop on my, well, lap, turning my attention from one to the other with the kind of mental dexterity that only women seem to manage.
Most of my friends end up doing much the same thing most evenings. Dinner may still be a shared meal in the sense that it is consumed in the same room by the family. But generally the parents are eating it while surfing the channels while their kids are on social media sites or instant messaging their friends on their computers and Blackberries. Conversation is at a bare minimum, conducted at the level of, “Pass the
, will you?” or “No, I don’t want another
” or even “Must we have
Once dinner is done, everyone is back in their respective holes, doing their own thing: reading a book, browsing through a glossy magazine, watching the latest series of
, or, for all you know, trawling the Internet for porn.
I am old enough to remember a time when evenings spent at home would be very different. When there wasn’t any television, and once it finally arrived, programming only lasted a couple of hours. A time when the highlight of everyone’s week was
(a programme in which film songs were played for an hour or so – for the benefit of those who grew up after the glory days of
). A time when computers were something that you saw only in sci-fi movies where they were treated almost as alien life forms.
I wonder now, how did we survive those evenings? Did we actually sit around and talk to one another? Did we listen to what other people were saying? Were we better connected with friends and family as a result? Did we have to make a greater effort to keep ourselves entertained? Did that help increase our powers of imagination? Did that mean that we had better inner resources to keep ourselves occupied? Or were we just bored out of our skulls and didn’t know it?
And you know what the darnedest thing is? I simply can’t remember. I have vague memories of waiting up late – and by that, I mean past 9 pm – every Friday waiting for the weekly installment of
and of going over to a friend’s place to watch the Saturday night movie on TV. But beyond that, not many other specific details leap to mind.
I’m sure I must have read a book, helped my mother in the kitchen, hung out with the kids next door, pestered my elder sister with endless questions, or even played a game or two of Ludo with my father. But honestly, I couldn’t swear to any of it. Do I remember the entire family sitting down at a table and having long, meaningful conversations about the purpose of life? No, I don’t. But what I do remember is a very clear sense of being connected to family.
I still recall vignettes of the many mythological tales my grandmother would tell me as she coaxed me to have just another bite of dinner. I remember running to and fro from the kitchen to fetch piping-hot
for my grandfather as he sat at the table. I remember the way in which we kids competed with each other for the attention of the adults, interrupting each other to tell our stories from school. But most of all, I remember the ineffable feeling of belonging that permeated those evenings.
We always tend to look back on our childhood with rose-tinted spectacles. So maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes me feel that those pre-TV days were better for family life. And perhaps I’m just turning into an old fogey who thinks that the past was a nicer place. But I can’t help but wonder how things would turn out if we switched off the TV and turned off the computer. Would our evenings be better or worse as a consequence?
Would you care to find out?