“The average American child can recognize 1,000 corporate logos but can’t identify 10 plants or animals native to his or her own region.” Quite frankly, I can’t figure out who is responsible for that quote. It may have been my facebook friend Oscar Williams 1V. It have been any man on the street. It darned sure could have been anybody, period. I’ve been struggling with the entire concept of the world of technology slowly but surely (and not very slowly) taking over the lives of our children, and our own lives, to be sure. More so than ever, it’s become more and more obvious that the attachment our younger generation has with technology has begun to wash away the sense and sensibility that it once had. I didn’t have to stare bug eyed at the quote beginning this writing to know that the world of cell phones, i-phones, i-pads, laptops, desktops, kindles, etc. has replaced the natural world of spiders, snakes, tadpoles, salamanders, fish, deer, rhinos, and elephants. The world that is inside a classroom, an office, an internet cafe, a library, and even your living room, is not the living, breathing world under the blue sky and sun that started it all but appears to be fading into the past like a sunset on a bad day.
My life has changed significantly this past year. I’ve begun a two year odyssey of learning at a university in Montana. It’s been forty years since I graduated from college but it seems like four hundred, particularly in the world of internet technology. I’ve been operating from behind the eight ball for several months trying to catch up with the new way of doing business. I did buy a computer in 1987 and got half savvy with it but clearly, didn’t take my computer education very far. Hell, I was busy fishing, hunting, roping, riding good horses, and thoroughly enjoying everything I could under the sun, literally. Now I’m paying for it. I watch my classmates barely listen to a lecture while typing their notes on computer generated power points on their Apple laptops with their facebook or hotmail app available with a quick click. Following a class, those i-phones are out before they are out of their chairs, their fingers working so smoothly on those ridiculously small keys. They make it look easy. If I used a laptop in class it would be a disaster. My fingers would fumble through those keys. I’d be missing keys and opening new programs, shutting down and starting up, cursing through my clenched jaws, and defeating the whole purpose of being in class.
But I’d rather be me than them. To be sure, I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of good people. Smart, savvy students who kick my ass every day in class and on exams and papers. I’m struggling with my lack of electronic savvy. I spent two worrisome weeks not long ago wondering how I could record an interview without a tape recorder for a major mid-term project. The solution was ridiculously easy. Use a cell phone. I did. But I had no clue, until I asked a fellow student and lamely admitted my total ignorance of the whole process.
My whole point regarding the schism between my own lack of IT knowledge and the vast breadth of ability the vast majority of the learned populace does have is the length and depth they have had to go to acquire that knowledge they have, and at what cost. The learning our world is doing is in fromt of a set of keys, electronically connected to the cyber world and it’s particular and peculiar keyboard. I see it every hour of every day on campus. I do see a Montana Sky, big tall trees, squirrels in them, deer hiding behind them. I see the sun, when it’s out, and the stars, when they are. And I can feel the wind blow in my face on long walks, and I can hear the river flowing under the bridges I cross. But I also see students staring intently into their cellphones, unaware of me passing by, heads down. Many of them have earphones plugged in. They are almost totally lost in cyber space. Hell, they don’t see me, certainly don’t hear me, and wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground if they were gonna’ get their ass kicked by a gut shot grizzly bear that came from around the corner. They are fucking oblivious.
I was relaying a story to classmates about a particular grizzly bear that I followed one evening in hunting camp many years ago at a distance of just a few yards, as I attempted to blast a full lungful of bear spray at the renegade griz. Most of those listening had expressions of non belief on their faces. I simply wasn’t making any sense to most of them. The story wasn’t registering. I suspect, however, that if they’d heard the same event on Animal Planet or seen it on Yahoo News it might have rung a few more brain cells.
I know we’re a highly educated nation. I know my grandson is getting a good education at a top notch public school. He already runs the keyboard on his electronic toys more nimbly than I can only dream of doing. I’m sixty three and he’s four. But I want Elias to know a white oak tree when he sees one. I want him to know a gray squirrel when he’s on a walk. Or better yet, the difference between a non venomous black snake and a cottonmouth moccasin.. How about the difference between a white tailed deer and an elk he may very well see this coming summer on his visit to our ranch on the edge of Glacier National Park.
He won’t know how to bait a hook, cast it into Bear Creek, and understand where the trout might be lying on that particular piece of fresh water. Is that a brookie or a cutthroat he just caught? “What do I do now Grandpa? Can we eat it?” I’ll help him catch that fish and I’ll show him how to clean it and get it ready for the frying pan. But I’ll only do that once. Then he’s on his own. I’ll also try to get Elias to keep his eyes open, not just to be aware of what’s around him but also to keep his eyes open to the sun and the sky, to the creek and to the pasture, to the horses and to the herd of elk, to the still air and the gentle summer breezes. He can’t that get that stuff back East. He won’t get it in a classroom. It won’t happen in front of a computer screen, except in virtual reality and that doesn’t really count does it? Elias does have a real advantage however, and I am aware of that. His Mom and Dad are pretty keen to the outdoors and they’ll bring him a long way in that part of his life But many kids won’t have that chance. They’ll get smart in school. They may become good lawyers, builders, or teachers. But they won’t know the difference between an oak and a maple, or a black from a grizzly bear. Or the beauty of a black night in Montana lit up by the northern lights.
I caught my first trout when I was 12 years old on a creek in New Jersey. That was one of the highlights of my life up to that point. I was on my own, had found the stretch of creek I wanted to fish, baited my own hook, and caught my first brookie. I screamed with Joy. That creek was cold and clear and far enough away from the madding crowd that the whole beautiful experience is one I remember to this day. God I hope it isn’t too late.
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