Saturday, March 11, 2006

On consumption, then and now

What I'm going to say is rather obvious in a lot of ways developmentally, but nonetheless: It's occurred to me recently more and more that the kind of media and consumption habits that I had as a child, or that my parents encouraged or allowed when I was growing up, continue to shape how I act when I'm on my own and can do as I please.

A few examples: As a child, I always remember the radio being on, instead of the TV. We'd always be listening to classical music (or the occasional easy-listening or celtic) as well as public radio, whereas there was a pretty firm rule throughout many of my early grades that we couldn't watch television after dinner. So instead of getting clued in to all the new shows — or as certain networks have taken to calling them, "fresh" ones — I was more aware of "Full House" reruns than anything else. It's not that we were never allowed to watch TV after dinner, and I'm sure that rule broke down at times, especially when we watched my parents' favorite genres: mysteries and British period pieces, often intertwining.

The other habit I've recently been thinking about is how I really got to preferring warm, purchased school lunches to those packed in brown bags. It wasn't as much a comment on my parents' or my cooking or packing ability, but more on the love of an extra bit of sleep in the morning and the preference for "fresher" food.

As a result of this early conditioning (which was not entirely my parents' rearing, but also my response to it), I'm less of a TV watcher than most people I know, and yet I love having the radio on, and getting sidetracked — lazing about in bed on weekend mornings, say — whenever there's some really great show or segment being broadcast. Radio listening is more a part of my morning routine (when I'm not blogging) than the AM TV shows have ever been. It actually feels kind of strange and different for me to watch "Today" or "Good Morning America" and the like. Likewise, I never really got into the habit of packing lunch on workdays (something I've been criticized for in the past), and am content to just buy lunch every day, just like I used to for major stretches of my classroom days.

The one thing that sort of replaced TV for me (although I still watch it) was the computer. I was never so obsessed with it, as far as I can recall, that my parents put limits on how much I used it. (We got our first one about 16 or 17 years ago.) So it wasn't controlled the way TV watching was. Keep in mind, also, that most of this development period occurred before the internet. Sure, I'd play the occasional rudimentary computer game, but more than anything, for me, it was a tool of writing and creativity. I "published" more than 100 issues of a personal newsletter during my teenage years with the use of the computer — it was probably one of my most long-lasting personal "projects." (I was always working on some "project" or another, whether it was typing up juvenile short stories or, when about 8, fixing the "wiring" with marker and tape underneath the living room coffee table.) So now, when I come back to my apartment, it's not the TV that I throw on first, but the computer: to read the news, to write, to e-mail, to IM, to pay bills, to move money, to consult the oracle, to blog, etc.

By explaining these habits, I'm not trying to say that one way is, on its face, better than another (although I'll probably admit that I'd save a few extra dollars each week if I just bit into the PB&J routine and liked it), but merely to show how childhood habits really do end up shaping what you're like as an adult. If I have children, I'm sure there will be a whole new round of media and technology (and eating options) to deal with. And frankly, that's a little scary to me. No wonder our parents were slightly uneasy about the possibilities of the changing digital world. At least our generation's parents never had to worry about cyber-bullying or cyber-exposure or cyber-stalking or hyper cell-phone use. Eek! I feel old.

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