Entertainment. Most of us think of it in terms of television, smartphones, laptops and iPads. At least this is how many incorporate it into daily living. In fact, it would not take very long to look around and find toddlers, children and adolescents glued to electronic devices. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent study findings warn that this habit can be detrimental to the development of young children having too much exposure to these devices. To help combat this, State of the Re:Union contributor John McKnight of Abundant Community offers some great and easy ideas on how we can “unplug” and get back to the origins of entertainment. To read the original text in its entirety, click here.
It may be that most of us are not alarmed by “tube-nurtured” children because we think that what is happening is entertainment — innocent and pleasurable. Therefore, we don’t recognize the fact that the tube is replacing play and genuine entertainment created by children, families and communities. In fact, the word “entertainment” is derived from the Old French which meant “hold together.” Its essence is about relationships between people rather than people and “tubes.”
There is an interesting monograph first printed in 1928 titled “Baraboo 1850’s to 1860’s Pioneer Festivities.” It describes how people entertained themselves in the decade of the 1850’s in the small Wisconsin town of Baraboo. The monograph documents entertainments produced by the residents including (these are just a few in many depictions):
• Fourth of July celebrations that went on all day and evening.
• New Year’s day celebrated as a time of gift giving and calling on neighbors and friends.
• Berrying parties and apple-bees where everyone joined together in forests and orchards.
• Afternoon tea parties.
• Public dances of every kind, with local musicians providing the music.
• Village gatherings to watch the dancing of Native Americans who still lived in the area.
• Pound parties where everyone attending brought a pound of food to be shared with a poor family.
• Festivals throughout the community held frequently to raise money for good causes.
• Park festivities where public gatherings of every kind took place in the village.
This is a history of entertainment, festivity and play that was produced by everyday people in so many ways that most days had at least one entertainment. People knew how to create activities that would be fun, inspiring, social and informative. In that sense they were capable of creating a community’s enjoyment.
In a “tube-focused” community, many people have lost the capacity to produce an enjoyable life. Instead they are consumers of commercial “entertainment.” And because so many of them have never engaged in creating and participating in entertainment, there’s no need for us to develop our talents. We pay to watch people with talent on a tube. And everyone knows that “tubing” has nothing to do with a festive life. Instead it is a sad retreat from the joy of using our abilities to celebrate each other by coming together in a thousand exciting, happy, supportive, friend-making, talent-displaying ways.
So, supposing your 2012 New Year’s resolutions included personal leadership in creating an enjoyable neighborhood. We can begin by recognizing that we still know how to celebrate weddings, birthdays, graduations and holidays with our relatives. The people of Baraboo in the 1850’s have created a community celebration menu for us to build upon. We can join together with our neighbors to have gardening, tea, quilting and book parties. We can open our houses of worship to all kinds of neighborhood celebrations. We can create opportunities to dance together, sing together, make music together and raise money together. We can join in enjoying the talents of our children and debates of public issues.
In all these ways, we can become a real community where we know everyone by name and experience their unique talents. Best of all, we can become real neighbors celebrating life together rather than living isolated lives in houses where electric tubes create a counterfeit life for us and our families.
John McKnight is an expert on communities. An Ohio native who currently lives near Chicago, he has spent decades organizing communities and researching them, primarily in the Windy City itself. In the course of his career, he mobilized neighborhoods during the civil rights movement, wrote several books about community development, created a center for urban affairs at Northwestern University, and even taught the current President a thing or two about advocacy. (Yes, it’s true: way back when, a young and eager Barack Obama interned at McKnight’s training program for community organizers in southeast Chicago). If that’s not enough, he recently co-authored a book called “The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.”