Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Get unplugged

A 20-year old gamer has died from a blood clot brought on by sitting for a long period of time in front of his console in one position in Sheffield. While it's shocking to hear that a perfectly healthy young person with no underlying medical condition could die of just sitting down for too long, it's even more shocking to hear that this sort of death has happened before, particularly in Asia, where gamers have died from spending 15 hours or more in front of a game without taking a break.

The family of the young man has since taken up an awareness campaign to educate people to take breaks during gaming. Microsoft, which manufactures Xbox, has added their two cents with a recommendation that "gamers take breaks to exercise as well as make time for other pursuits."

Like living a life perhaps?

While it's highly laudable that the young man's famiy has raised this awareness campaign, you have to ask yourself: why didn't the family intervene? The father of the deceased young man says his son would play up to 12 hours a day. While he can't be blamed for his son's choices, why was there no effort to curb his habits?

It's a well-known fact that habits are learned. There are no better determinants of your future health and well-being than the lifestyle of your parents. Active parents tend to have active children, while parents with coach potato lifestyles tend to have coach potato children. Parents can talk at children until they're blue in the face, but it's their actions that have the real impact.

Leaving aside the issue of this particular case, it seems that there's an apparent common sense gap with today's parents and the generation that came before them. Most of us grew up with parents who fought us at the dinner table every night over some unwanted vegetable or who actually unplugged the tv and told us to go outside and get some fresh air. Surely those Participaction ads weren't just to annoy us. They were made to educate us in their overly peppy way, informing us of how many minutes of activity that we needed in a day and how many vegetable servings we should have. That's what all the Body Break nonsense of the 90s was about.

Since then, Participaction has come back to Canadian airwaves, dispelling the notion that we're active enough and letting us know that kids need 60 minutes of exercise a day. Some people would say that this standard is impossible to achieve with everyone's busy lifestyles.

But if a gamer can find 12 hours a day to play Halo online, why can't they find one single hour to go for a walk or bike ride?

In the past, families were encouraged to go out together and be active. That was also the time when families used to sit down and eat a meal together, another dying family tradition. Instead, people are constantly online or working. Screen time, meaning any time spent in front of a computer, tv, console or Blackberry, is quickly taking over all of our lives. It's making us work harder, longer and spend less time actually interacting with people- real people, not Facebook or Twitter people.

Years back, this kind of awareness campaign would not have been necessary because it wasn't such an issue. People were less plugged in, technology was more expensive, and families were busy being families with an actual family life, eating dinners and taking bike rides. But technology is slowly robbing us of these things and it seems like it's taking common sense down with it.

It's time for people to take back control of their lives and unplug for awhile. Turn everything off- tv, cell phones, computers, game consoles- and just learn to be. Learn to be together, to be active, to be interactive. An online life might be a great escape from reality- but in order for it to work, you have to have a reality to escape from.

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