- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009




Anyone who spends time around young children or teenagers knows that high-tech has changed everything in Toyland. Today, the babes aren’t running from a mean old landlord named Barnaby. They are dressed provocatively while doing X-rated stunts all over cyberspace. And if adults are not vigilant, kids can grow up fast.

But even if parents closely monitor what their children see on the Internet, the lives of younger Americans are changing drastically because of machines. Used to be, you would see kids playing sports in the streets and on playgrounds. I don’t witness too much of that anymore. Instead, many kids play sports games online, where they can experience the thrill of victory without getting sweaty or bloody. They are playing a game, not the game.

Growing up on Long Island, sports literally saved me. In my neighborhood, there were the jocks and the hoods. I had friends in both camps. The hoods hung around the shopping center smoking cigarettes and, in the late 1960s, taking dope. I found that kind of stuff boring and hit the ball fields.

Many of the hoods bottomed out; some even died. Most of the jocks became prosperous. Sporting competition builds discipline and perseverance. Smoking and taking dope builds nothing. I was lucky to have made the right choice.

But the fantasyland the Net can provide is almost like a narcotic. People can quite literally build their own worlds without ever leaving the house. Highly motivated people still venture out to conquer the real world, but many folks are retreating into an artificial world that is just a click away.

I believe the long-term ramifications of cyberspace are enormous for the United States and for the world. You can see it in the current recession. Many folks are stunned when they lose their jobs. They simply don’t know what to do.

A few days ago, a fired worker in Los Angeles murdered his wife and five kids before killing himself. Instead of starting over, the guy flipped out.

Life is hard. The Greatest Generation, shaped by the Depression and World War II, understood that very well. Baby boomers drafted into the Vietnam War quickly learned it, too. But now kids and many adults are becoming hypnotized by a technological world that requires little accountability and affords massive escapist possibilities.

Some old-timers tell me they fear for America, that it has become a place of individual pursuits and selfish short-term desires. They say there is little sense of patriotism or civic responsibility anymore.

That fear is worth thinking about as the machines become more and more vital to our lives. Succeeding in the real world requires a lot more skill and determination than flipping a switch.

Bill O’Reilly is a nationally syndicated columnist, host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and author of the book “Who’s Looking Out For You?”

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