How Soon Is Now?

Today Emily was watching TV when an ad break came on. She pointed at the TV, confused as to why her film had disappeared. She looked at me and said, ‘TV broken!’.

Imagine living in a world where all you know is entertainment on-tap with no interruptions. Whatever you want to watch right there and then at the touch of a button. Anything that isn’t immediate and completely gratifying is deemed as ‘broken’.

At the risk of this turning into a ‘in my day…’ rant, I just couldn’t believe how different her entertainment experience is to my own as a child. I remember how excited I would get when The Broom Cupboard came on the BBC for that brief period each afternoon.

The closest I got to constant media entertainment was when we got our first VCR player when I was about five. My mum took me to Woolworths to buy my first video. The sheer choice and variety was overwhelming, and I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted. Then my mum spotted a video and said, ‘oh Charlotte, let’s get this one. I watched it when I was your age and I loved it.’ Trusting her better judgement and her ability to actually make a decision, I (foolishly) went along with her choice.

When we got home I was so excited to watch it. We pressed the play button on the VCR and then…what the fuck is this? It was in black and white. There were puppets on strings with stupid hats dancing around a pathetic looking flower. It was ‘Watch With Mother’. The 50s version of CBBC. The insufferable puppets were Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. This actually passed for entertainment when she was young. Jesus. That was the first time I’d ever felt sorry for my mum. But because of a lack of other options, I watched and re-watched that one video until I was word-perfect. I even adopted a posh 50s BBC accent when I would mimic the presenter.

But now as I sit with Emily as she instantly switches between watching Minions, Zootropolis, Moana and Sing on her iPad that at 20 months she can already control, I can’t help but think about how Emily would react to what passed as ‘entertainment’ for me 30 years ago.

She would most likely stare blankly at Phillip Schofield talking to a rodent puppet in a studio the size of her wardrobe, and after 15 seconds she would expect to be able to turn on to another, more interesting and preferably CGI option.

Kids who grew up in the 80s didn’t have options, and they didn’t have immediacy. Instead, they had to wait agonisingly for the kids’ TV shows to start, then you just watched what was on, and that was your lot.

Even the very few kids’ TV shows that are still on air and have been running for decades have had to bastardize themselves out of all recognition to appeal to children today. Each new Postman Pat episode is like a cross between Emmerdale and Lethal Weapon. And seriously, a postman with a fucking jet plane? My postman doesn’t even have a van; he has to push a trolley of post around like a bloody homeless person.

Patience and the joy of experiencing something you’ve been waiting what feels like a lifetime for, is something that Emily may never experience. This worries me.

Aside from patience being an essential attribute to save her from growing up and turning into a total prick, there is something really exhilarating in the anticipation of having to wait for something you truly want.

Boundaries and time-limitations on how often she watches TV might help to some extent, but in a way, a narrower window of ‘online entertainment’ means that the need for immediacy in her eyes will be all the more acute.

If she begins to get insufferably impatient with things as she grows up, I may have to make her watch Bill & Ben in black and white as a punishment. Now that would really freak her out!