It was lost for 17 years.
Every now and then, I’d rummage through the attic at my parents’ house, or look in various drawers, trying to find an old video cassette that contained eight episodes of a sitcom I created and filmed with the help of my siblings and some friends from church.
Twenty-five years ago, we transformed half of my room into a living-room set for a TV show, wrote and distributed scripts, recorded a theme song, and even included a laugh track. The Room wasn’t our first production; it was the culmination of several years of creativity that had already spawned multiple radio shows modeled after old-time radio sitcoms.
I started recording when I was 12, and over the years my equipment got better—first a boom box, then a mixer for multiple cassette decks.
In a period of two years, my next-door neighbor John and I recorded more than 100 episodes of The Trevin and John Show. We did a spinoff show starring my brother called Herbert (in which he played a lovable nerd with a high-pitched voice and Steve Urkel’s personality).
We made a show that cast my sister as a young widow with kids (They Love Kelly) and then more than four dozen episodes of The Trevin Show, which ran for two “seasons” and included multiple character changes and story arcs, eventually pulling in all my siblings, my parents, my cousins, and even some of my church friends as voice actors, set sometimes against a musical score. By the time I was 14, we’d graduated to “talk radio,” and I produced a show with my brother playing the role of an Englishman (“Jet Davis”) pontificating on political happenings in the mid-1990s.
But The Room—that was the culmination. We’d arrived on video!
In October, on the weekend my grandfather died, I found the video cassette, which we assumed had been lost forever. I bought some equipment to digitize the audio and video, and the family had a “watch party” a week later, with my siblings and their kids excited to catch a glimpse into our childhood creativity.
Watching The Room after all these years, noticing the not-so-great video and audio quality, I wondered how much more we could have done had the iPhone been available when we were kids. We were 15 years too early to benefit from the smartphone revolution.
Then again, I wonder if having iPhones would have kept us from creating those shows in the first place. Even then, most of my friends were too busy playing Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64 to bother with writing scripts, recording shows, or creating characters and storylines. My family enjoyed video games on rainy days, but for the most part, our free time (especially summer) was spent outdoors or in creative pursuit.
Losing Childhood Creativity?
Today, the smartphone allows for more creativity in the hands of a child than ever before. But is creative output the result?
I marvel at the worlds my kid create on Minecraft. I enjoy playing the levels my kids make on Super Mario Maker.
But most of the time, the smartphone seems more like a drug draining the creativity out of the next generation. In the grocery store, you pass by toddlers in the grocery cart, oblivious to their surroundings, captivated by an iPad. Next time you’re at a stoplight, look at the people in the cars around you, and you’re likely to see adults, teens, and children with faces lit up from the soft glow of their devices. Even worse, you may find the driver texting.
Of course, we can be grateful for all the good today’s technology makes possible. The capabilities of these devices never cease to amaze.
But what if, instead of relying on technology for creative development, we are stunting the next generation’s imaginative growth? What if the endless horizons available on the iPhone screen keep us from scanning the horizon of the world around us, or tapping into the depths of our creativity?
Will the next generation enjoy memories of an imaginary fortress in the back yard, know the thrill of sailing down the creek after a thunderstorm, or the backstories of imaginary kingdoms, complete with wars, castles, and the annals of each king’s reign?
Creativity hasn’t disappeared—it’s still there in clever TikTok videos, or in Instagram moments that entertain or educate. It’s never been easier to create and consume content.
But even if the smartphone should free us to do more than ever before, I wonder if cultural conditions stifle creativity because we turn to the phone as the solution for boredom. Have we done away with what Todd Henry calls “negative space?” Henry writes:
The time between your active moments is when ideas are formed, insights are gained, mental connections are forged. If your life is a constant blur of activity, focus, and obligation, you are likely to miss critical breakthroughs because you won’t have the benefit of pacing and negative space. What’s not there will impact your life as much or more than what is.
Boredom isn’t a problem, but a condition for creativity.
How many potential writers will never try their hand at crafting a tale of adventure?
How many potential musicians will never sit down at a keyboard to spin a new melody?
How many potential builders will never construct a fort or treehouse?
How many children will grow up having never really observed the world around them, because they’ve been sucked into the smaller world of the screen in front of them?
Parents, for the sake of the art the world is waiting for, for the sake of the mental and emotional health of the next generation, for the sake of fun-filled imaginations that make the years of childhood a delight, please limit your kids’ access to the phone.
They will thank you later. And, with you, they’ll forever enjoy the fruit of childhood creativity.
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