Where Have All the Children Gone?

By Dervin, Dan | The Journal of Psychohistory, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Where Have All the Children Gone?


Dervin, Dan, The Journal of Psychohistory


I: WHERE HAVE ALL THE CHILDREN GONE?

Psychohistorical projects may originate from a protracted spell in the archives, an after-dinner conversation, a dream, or, in the present instance, a walk around the block....

Recently visiting my brother among a tract of new homes, miles beyond our hometown, my wife Kate and I would take late afternoon strolls. What we encountered was a world remote from our post-war childhoods, although our old neighborhood along the western verges of Omaha had also sprung up amid fields, woods, and creeks, and attracted that era's upward mobile. Nuclear-family dwellings with well-kept lawns and flowerbeds had likewise sprung up then. In those days, we would swing from our dinner tables and tear across the lawns to congregate under the corner streetlight for kick-the-can, street-hockey or some other game. After dark, we trailed off to our respective abodes, past parents still puttering about, or glimpsed through open front-doors already parked around radios with newspapers spread on their laps, while our own bedside radios were dialed to waltzes from distant starlit ballrooms that seeped into our dreams via the day's social media. . A few blocks away were parochial and public school playground sites for weekend sports. Below our brick bungalow ran a mossy, pebbly spring in a hollow, canopied by cottonwood and elm, home to red squirrels and song birds, a natural preserve where snakes and nettles added a hazardous note. Add in our long snowy winters when we ice-skated on cow ponds or steered toboggans down slopes, and the sum of these memories is that much of our childhoods transpired out of doors.

Now, our strolls were taking us among winding asphalt lanes past eerily quiet homes in muted earth and sea tones with varied designs, piquing our curiosity but offering only brief sightings of the residents. Instead of single-car garages, we spotted multi-vehicle spaces prominently in front; wide enough for two SUVs, a boat, and a workbench. Gleaming helmets above all-terrain bikes festooned the back walls along with car racks for transporting those glitzy machines to outlying networks of tarmac trails, rather than for hailing friends or tooting around on a paper-route with a stop-off at the local soda fountain. Out front were roofed steps but no porches-the preferred entry being through the garage. To our curious eyes, the interiors remained cloistered, apparently in favor of rear suites or sub-level rec areas. Decks or patios opened onto a stockaded backyard with picnic table, grill, and vegie patch. The mostly treeless lawns were meticulously kept, and even appeared to be mowed in synch.

It gradually dawned on us that there was rarely a soul in sight on our twilight forays. Earlier, we had watched garage doors automatically ascend to entering vehicles and swallow them up-no street parking. We did once meet a girl pushing a sibling in a stroller and a fortyish woman taking out cuttings to her dumpster, who paused for a friendly exchange. That was about it. The pervasive stillness and aura of desertion evoked childhood twilights when neighborhoods were evacuated by an approaching tornado, and I wondered improbably what sort of new threat might be lurking around the corner to prompt this inward-turning development. These were mostly family households with growing children, but where were they? At their laptops, video games, skypes, iphones, home-theatres? Supposedly. But I only knew they weren't out shouting and frisking about in their pristine settings. Some observers would take this as confirming the eclipse of childhood, that today's children have retreated into their own digital comfort zones, venturing out only in the glass bubbles of their apps and ear-puffs. Not that I'd been living in my own glass bubble, but my disoriented sense of stepping onto an alien planet set the stage for further exploring the perplexing uncharted directions our own spaceship Earth has been taking.

This opening may be pardoned for suggesting that as psychohistorians we often tread through fertile fields of unassimilated data that only later coalesce into a more informed inquiry. …

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