Christmas is coming and with it all the things that people would want for their homes. There are going to be blinds, the new furniture, the paint jobs, and of course the things parents would want to give their children.
Many, many years ago, boys wanted the cap guns and the girls wanted dolls. It meant that selecting toys for the children was an easy job for most parents. Nearly every Guyanese girl got a light-complexioned baby with blue eyes and all the features of the Europeans.
Of course the girls did not care. They had their baby to play with. They did not see colour. Many enjoyed combing the hair, if the doll had any, because some came with the hair sculpted on the head. Then things changed.
Politicians intervened and suddenly Black children having White dolls was not the way to go. The view was that children should be made to realize the truth about themselves. So it was that the dark-skinned dolls became the norm for dark-skinned children.
But I wondered whether the children ever noticed the difference. Today we talk about racism without realizing that we taught our children about race. Indeed, the children saw the differences, but there was no more than a passing glance, especially if they attended the same school.
Last week during an interview with outgoing American Ambassador, Perry Holloway, I heard the Ambassador say that the various ethnic differences only became manifest at election time. Suddenly the racial lines are drawn and people view each other with some measure of hostility.
Ambassador Holloway said that as soon as the elections are over and the results are declared, the people revert to what they are—Guyanese—sharing the space and the facilities.
I once saw an experiment conducted on television—it might have been 60 Minutes. The conclusion was that children were hotwired to gravitate toward their own. The test was rather simple. Dolls or puppets were placed near the very small children who then proceeded to the doll they preferred.
But the experiment also showed that there were other factors that determined the choice. The most pleasant got the most attraction, regardless of the colour. Children who grew up in mixed households also did not harbour any racial feelings toward their siblings.
Anyhow, dolls have all but disappeared from the shelves. Parents simply do not have the urge to buy them. The guns are another story. They too have disappeared. As a boy when we played with them we simply re-enacted what we saw in the movies. Of course we had been brainwashed by these movies.
The good guys were always white and the bad guys were always black. So when we played unconsciously, there were those of us who saw ourselves as Roy Rogers and the Buffalo Bill. We emulated John Wayne. We were the good guys.
The situation changed in Guyana when the gun actually became a real object. We began killing each other. The authorities then implored parents not to give their sons guns at Christmas. A gun as a Christmas present is no more.
Yet I believe that something worse has replaced the guns and the dolls. Electronics. I spoke about this before and I must do so again. Parents are going to present their children—at least those who could afford—with X-Boxes and smart phones. This has been the case for a while now.
In increasing numbers, I see children with their noses buried in the phones almost all the time. You can’t get children to go out to do physical exercises. A few parents get their children to join clubs to play cricket or football. But most are happy to just know that their children are indoors.
“They can’t get into trouble if they stay home,” parents would say.
However, social contact has been drastically reduced. I see friends walking the streets, each absorbed by something on the phone and pretty much minding his or her own business. In the process, some have walked into traffic.
I have a grandson who, once he has nothing more to do, would spend all his time on the phone. I have found him sleeping and the phone would be going on about some cartoon character or some wrestling action.
Even in my workplace I see young people fully engrossed in Facebook and Twitter and whatever else. But most of these people never try to use the phone to do their research.
There was a time when the office hosted Christmas parties for the staff. These are no longer being held because, I firmly believe, that the young people would prefer to spend their time on the phone, texting or chatting with others.
I understand that this is not unique to Guyana. I hear parents complaining that even at meal time they can’t get their children to put the phone down. Yet come Christmas, parents would be doling out phones as presents. The excuse would be that they always want to be in contact with their children.
Yet none of these parents would buy what some call ‘mango pelters”. No child would be caught dead with one of them. They don’t want to talk when they can text or send videos. And some of us have seen the videos, sometimes with disgust.
There was the newspaper report of the boy who killed his mother because she dared to take away his phone. Things have reached frightening proportions. We embraced the technology without examining the consequences. Now that the situation has got out of hand we are helpless to control it.
When I visited the United States and travelled on the subway, I was always amazed at people sitting in their own world. Each had his ears plugged with an earphone. Back then they listened to music from whatever was playing it, sometimes a tape recorder. Some buried their heads in the newspapers.
Now there is the ubiquitous phone. Old neighbours would chat with each other, but for the greater part the carriage would be extremely quiet, each passenger lost in his own world.
There is an advertisement featuring a family without Wi-Fi. Every member almost goes mad. They could not play family games or read something, so addicted are they to the technology. Guyana is almost the same.
The children in the remote areas who do not have Wi-Fi don’t know how lucky they are, but that would change sooner rather than later.
So here comes Christmas. No dolls and guns, but the phone that is going to heighten the addiction.
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