by Robert John Stevens, February 19, 2016
I’m writing this in part because my entrepreneurial instincts whisper to me that there is a big opportunity here. Please read it through.
Most Americans are not old enough today to know that before the 1980s most children played outside with each other.
I grew up in Potomac, Maryland. In 1970 we moved to a new home on a cul-de-sac of just nine homes contained in a much larger neighborhood. Sometimes twenty to thirty children would gather together and play kickball around that cul-de-sac or kick the can when the street lamps turned on. Kids were daily seen riding their banana seat, high-rise handlebar bicycles, especially around and around cul-de-sacs.
By the early 1980s, betamax (aka beta) video machines became popular, video stores opened and playing outdoors quickly declined.
As the cost of living increased, summer camps became a convenient way for affluent working parents to send their kids away to experience social interaction similar to their own childhood.
Enjoyment at those camps varied significantly for a variety of reasons, but were rarely substitutes for staying at home and playing outside with friends.
Some of our children’s happiest memories are playing outside when visiting cousins.
Any elderly person raised in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s and 1940s will tell you how happy they were growing up, even during the Great Depression.
Fire hydrants were opened during hot summer days. Low income families could afford summer beach homes at the rural outskirts of Long Island. Families walked to stores. Merchants, including one of my grandfathers, sold fruit at their own corner stands. Children played ball in the streets. Today those streets are so tightly lined with vehicles that it is difficult to park.
Before automobiles, many extended families lived close enough for their children to play together. Neighbor William E. Berrett, a well-known LDS historian and pioneer in seminary, told me in 1993 just before his death how he looked forward to seeing his uncles in heaven because of the fond memories he had growing up living so close to them.
Today because of social media, video games, porn, videos, cell phones, ubiquitous sports and news, gambling, the ridiculous cost of living, and the burdens placed upon parents by the regulatory and tax state engineered by the Powers that Be, I cannot see society returning to the 1970s where kids play outside.
Cell phones and social media compounded social problems: Studies show Facebook friends are almost entirely fake and dropping Facebook actually makes people happier.
Last year I sat on a rear pew at an LDS chapel, turned and was shocked to see four elderly men next to me texting during the meeting. Most men today use hand-held devices to access scriptures and religious manuals.
Young people text so frequently that they could be labeled as addicts, serial or chain texters (like chain smokers). Few know how to smile and formally greet strangers—a formality that was vigorously taught to America’s youth in the 1700s.
Will America ever return to the time where children happily spend most of their free time playing outside?
Master-planned developments are modern attempts at restoring old-fashion family and neighborhood life but are only partially successful. Go visit Daybreak in South Jordan, Utah. You will see children walk to and from school because the schools are within walking distance. Centrally planned social events increase neighborhood satisfaction. You may see some children outside playing but you will notice the parks and streets are usually void of children, and the streets are lined with vehicles on one side.
Master-planned developments require heavily funded developers. Much effort is required to work with local governments.
Can small entrepreneurs succeed in creating family friendly neighborhoods or restore face-to-face social interaction? How is that possible in today’s digital age?
I have a hunch there are solutions and one will become a huge success.