I am an odd person. Of course, that can probably be said of most human beings. We’re all peculiar in our own way. Upon surveying the gifts I had received on a Christmas morning, I not infrequently as a child wondered how people in the past could have ever enjoyed Christmas, when they did not have toy trains, or blinking lights, or whatever other new gadget that I now had in my hot little hands. I couldn’t believe that anyone could have a satisfied life lacking the wonderful new thing that I had just received.
Of course, the funny thing about it, that somehow never reached my consciousness as a child, was the obvious fact that until I had opened the gift on Christmas morning, I had somehow managed to live quite well and happily without it.
Despite what advertisers would have us believe, we live fine lives without adding their stuff into it. Jesus told his followers that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) We are incredibly pampered as members of an advanced twenty-first century civilization. And our level of pampering increases every year. We become quickly accustomed to each new shiny bobble and end up taking it for granted by the time the next Christmas or birthday rolls around.
As a child growing up, what I enjoyed most of all was reading. There were few things I enjoyed more than our weekly trip to the library. Very quickly I outgrew the children’s section and started casting a hungry eye at the grown up stacks. Thankfully the librarian was sympathetic to my plight, recognized my reading ability and interests, and allowed me to gather books from the grown up section, as long as my mom was the one who actually checked them out.
Besides all the time I spent reading, I also disappeared into the fields around my house. I spent endless hours climbing trees, building tree houses and forts, and looking for interesting rocks and creatures in the creeks.
I also had my toys. There were metal cars and trucks—like the Matchbox variety—tinker toys, erector sets, and chemistry sets. I had slot cars and model trains. I built model airplanes, both static plastic kinds put together with smelly cement and the sort made of balsa wood that could fly. I played catch with my dad and played baseball from grade school through junior high.
But I didn’t have a computer, there was no internet, and I had no cellphone. There was only one television in the house, and it wasn’t color. Amazingly, there were only three channels. No DVDs or Blu-ray, no VCR or TiVo. No Netflix or Hulu.
Yet I survived. And somehow living in this antique land, I never felt deprived.
My children, in contrast, have never known a life without computers and broadband internet. They barely comprehend the meaning of “dialing” a phone. They use the phrase, “you sound like a broken record” but have never used a record player or know what a broken one actually sounds like. When I explain it to them, they look at me with puzzlement: “You mean, you couldn’t carry all the music in the world in your pocket and listen to it without bothering anyone else?”
I delight in the latest technology. My wife and I are technophiles. Our house sprouts with whatever electronic device we decide will enhance our enjoyment. There are multiple computers, high definition televisions receiving hundreds of channels, all in color. We have TiVos and everything is linked by either highspeed wifi or Ethernet cables. Our TiVos record whatever shows we want to see and we watch them when we have the time, not on the schedule decided by the networks. With Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu we can watch most any movie or old television show we want, whenever we want it. Our entertainment, of whatever sort, comes to us on demand, on our schedule, as we like it—in glorious high definition and 7.1 surround sound. And when I read books, I turn the pages by tapping a button or swiping the screen. My ebook reader contains hundreds of volumes. It weighs but a few ounces. And any book in the world is now no more than sixty seconds from appearing in my hands.
Outside of not being able to live on the moon, the world my children and I inhabit is everything and more that I imagined the futuristic world of the twenty-first century would be.
But joy and happiness are not the result of the stuff that I have that makes my work and leisure more productive and easier. What brings the greatest joy remains what has always brought people satisfaction in life: family, friends and the enjoyment of time spent together. Our strongest memories are not derived from Facebook, but from face to face. Time spent hiking and riding a bike—or climbing a tree. Christmas is no more or less fun than it has ever been.
Somehow, both I and my children are surviving today without access to the toys and ideas, the gadgets and things, that ten years from now will be necessities. The lack of tomorrow’s toys does not make living today any less wonderful.