The way of life enforced during the pandemic of Corona-19 virus with quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing, excessive usage of computers and gadgets including online learning and teaching etc. intensified addiction of children to IT and accelerated the process of change of the paradigm of childhood itself.
The Paradigms of Childhood
In the history of humans, the paradigm of childhood kept changing following the social development.
In the earliest and the longest period of humanity, in the time of hunter-gatherer’s societies, children lived inside a wider family or tribes. They played freely without limitations and were learning only what they needed for survival by playing. In the cold winter nights, the storytellers, Shamans, were telling stories about gods and humans to all the members of the family gathered around the open fire. While the shadows have been playing on the walls of the cave animating miraculous painted figures of animals and people, children learned about life and about themselves. When the time came, the children were initiated into the world of the adults through different rituals led by those very same storytellers/shamans or an older, prominent members of the tribe.
With the Agricultural Revolution and with the transition to a new way of life, only some 10,000 years ago, the paradigm of childhood has changed. Children are now participating in everyday work of the family in the field or with the cattle. Play is still free but limited in time by work and learning of specific jobs that cannot be learned through playing or by imitation. Mother takes over the role of an educator. A storyteller becomes one of the oldest and the most experienced representative of the family, usually grandfather. The storyteller becomes also the initiator of children into the world of the adults and as such one of the most important members of the society.
The Industrial Revolution brought a number of changes in the life of family, the upbringing and education of children. Younger family members move from a village to a city where they seek a better and happier life for themselves and their children, while the elderly remain in the villages.
In the cities, both parents must go to work, so the education is covered by kindergarten and school. A child does not participate in life and work of the parents anymore. The time of free play on the streets, parks, and playgrounds becomes increasingly shorter as the curriculum continues to grow. Financial success of the family is the basis for happy life and thus for happy childhood. Happiness of children and their future (initiation into the world of the adults) is determined with quantity of education that can be bought with money.
Nobody is telling children fairy tales but educational, moralistic stories. On top of that, by the arrival of theatre for children, and specially with the appearance of television, fairy tales moved from acoustic world (listening) to the realm of visual (watching) what led to the loss of their power.
The time spent in free play is further shrinking. Material growth and technological development (cars) also reduces the area of play on the streets and on public areas. Children lost a contact with nature.
The Information Revolution brought many benefits to the people. It simplified the communication and access to information and helped raising the efficiency of work. However, it also brought many negative consequences that, sadly, concern the children’s growing up, upbringing, and education. With the Information Revolution the paradigm of childhood takes on a new shape and new characteristics. Childhood is closely linked to IT and depends on electronic media. Almost all the conscious time children spend with cell phones and tablets on social networks or computer games. Childhood, as a time of playing and learning, has experienced such a radical change that threatens the very essence of humanity. This new paradigm of childhood I call “eChildhood”.
Play, one of the basic human needs (C.G. Jung), an element of culture (Johan Huizinga), a medium for learning and psycho-physical development (Piaget), a mean of artistic and any other creative work (C.G. Jung), moved from the real world into a virtual world of computers. That way, play lost its link with the instinctive world thus losing all its positive functions. A loss of the physical contact with the nature and with the other players led to distancing and alienation what brought lots of psychic disorders in children. Social distancing during the pandemic additionally enlarged and intensified already existing trend of alienation and addiction to IT.
Fairy tales that have been forming humanity through hundreds of thousands of years of its history lost their power by moving from listening to watching and they ceased being a guide through individuation process (C.G. Jung) and help in finding the meaning of life (Bruno Bettelheim).
Imagination, by definition, is “the ability to form (…) mental images or conscious concepts of things that are not immediately available to the senses”. When exposed to media for a longer period of time, a child is not forming mental images or conscious concepts of things in his own head but is accepting images that are formed outside. That way a child becomes deprived of his own imagination. He is pacified and transformed into non creative observer. After a period of time, this deprivation enhances suggestibility what leads to “brain washing”. Longer exposure to media, especially an addiction to computer games, leads to the sensory deprivation which can give a birth to social deprivation.
With the extensive usage of electronic media the paradigm of Happy Childhood in which children were playing in the parks and on the streets changed into the paradigm of “eChildhood” in which children are immersed into the gadgets, without any contacts with nature and natural way of life, without live coexistence with the peers in free play, without own creativity and with limited imagination.
Unfortunately, the parents are not aware of this dangerous situation and, instead of limiting the time of the usage of gadgets, they are offering them to children from their earliest age without any criteria thus harming the children instead of helping them and unconsciously depriving children from their natural development and growth.
Brave New World!
Is this the end of the world in which we lived? Has the Corona—19 virus plunged the last nail into the coffin of humanity we knew and loved? Have we opened the way to robotics in which children will cohabitate and play with robots and in the robots? Will robots play in the heads of our children instead of their own imagination? Will our children in the process of social distancing become their own avatars? Are we entering into the future without humans?
What should we do?
Perhaps in this gloomy picture of the future, there is one possibility for us and our children — theatre. Theatre that will restore the children’s play, bring back the power of spoken word and the mystique of fairy tales, re-establish itself as a ritual and return everything we’ve lost when we advanced into the visual, electronic civilization.
Can theatre become also the initiator of children into the world of adults?
Definitely yes! Theatre can do it and theatre should do it! Theatre must change its mission from being an educator or entertainer into becoming an initiator and a shaman! Nobody else can do it. This is also the only chance for theatre itself. It must go back to ritual, otherwise it will irreversibly die!