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It's the fall of 2002. I pull on my flare jeans and my Rugrats t-shirt and grab my bike and walk next door. My best friend's mom answers the door and I ask if her kids can come outside and play. It was a simpler time. We didn't text each other to ask if we wanted to "hang out." We just knew that whoever woke up first would walk down the block and wake everyone else up so that we could start playing. If chores had to be done for one of us to come out, we all pitched in so that we could start playing a game faster. Life was easier. My biggest worry was if I would get tagged when we were playing Vampire at night. And when one of us got sick, we all did, so we never stopped hanging out.
One of my best birthdays was spent stuck at home because I had lice. But instead of sitting inside and watching TV and being sad about not being at school to celebrate, I was so excited. My sister had lice too and so did all of our friends from our block. My dad bought us pizza and cupcakes. He gave me his old Japanese flag (I don't remember why we wanted it) and we turned it into a Ladybug and had everyone sign around it. Then we spent the day playing whiffle ball in the street and riding our bikes and rollerblading. It was great. It was like I got a day off school for my birthday and all my friends got to stay home with me.
It saddens me now, as I look around at the street I grew up on, that kids are only outside for an hour or so a day then their back inside. Their parents aren't yelling for them to come inside as it gets dark out, because they aren't playing outside. They aren't begging for five more minutes or asking to camp out in their friend's backyard. It's really sad actually. I've talked about it with a lot of people and most say they believe it's because kids have video games now but I'm not sure that's entirely true. We had video games as kids and we did play them, usually in winter when we were taking breaks inside to warm up. But we had video games.
Honestly, I think as parents we rely too much on technology to entertain our kids. Or maybe our parents relied too much on other kids to entertain their kids. Just kidding. However, I am guilty of putting my daughter in front of the TV instead of taking her outside to play so that I can get something done. It's just become so easy to entertain kids in ways where parents don't have to take them outside. And what's worse, parents have to be outside now while kids are playing. When I was a kid, all our parents either went to work or stayed in the house. They came outside to watch our whiffle ball games and occasionally our football games and chat with the other parents, but they weren't worried about us being taken from our own street. How horrible is it that that is a legitimate worry now?
I don't think that the generation after us is lazy because of technology. They're just not as active because they don't have to be. We got lucky. We didn't have texting to keep in touch with our friends. We kept in touch the old fashioned way, by knocking on each other's doors. We got the good luck of having a generation of parents that didn't have to worry about us getting taken because we weren't alone outside. It wasn't just little kids. When I was younger, we played football in the street and I was the youngest on my team at 8-years-old and the oldest on my team was almost 16. It was just a given that all the older kids would keep an eye on the younger kids. My childhood was awesome because of it. I learned so much and I may not have had a lot of friends in my grade but my friends were still pretty fucking cool. I wouldn't trade one second of my childhood for any of the technology that exists today. My neighborhood friends were the best I could've asked for. They were a combination of the cool guy in a band, that dude who built a skate-park in his driveway, the weird kid who was always making everyone laugh, the boy you just knew was going to grow up to make a shit ton of money, the nerdy kid, the bookworm, the pretty girl, the kid who smoked a lot of weed, the girl who could punch harder than any guy, and the jock. Somehow, in some weird scenario, we all became friends. We all got along. I don't know what I was labeled as exactly, if I was even labeled as anything, besides "it" when we played our intense games of hide-and-seek. There was no judgment. No one cared who you were outside of the block. When we were together, we were friends and that's all that mattered. That's why we were luckier than this new generation.
To the new generation of kids, sitting inside on your computers or your phones, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you aren't outside playing cops and robbers with the other neighborhood kids. You should. Convince your parents to take you outside and go knock on all the other kid's doors and tell them to come outside too. Go biking down to the creek. Play blind man's bluff at the park. Go have adventures! Go be kids! You have all the time in the world to sit on a computer. Don't let your childhood pass you by.
To the parents that are my generation, take your kids outside. It is NOT a waste of time. Remember the adrenaline rush of playing tag? Remember how amazing you felt the first time you hit a home run or threw a touchdown pass? Don't you want your kids to feel that too? Teach them all the games we used to play. Tell them to have all their friends stick a foot in and sing "bubble gum, bubble gum" to figure out who's it for hide and seek. Teach them double dutch or that cool flippy, spinny thingy you used to be able to do with your Razor scooter. Take a deep breath and live your childhood all over again vicariously through your children!