On creativity and its worst enemy
Written and illustrated by Alejo Porras de los Ríos.
The situation escalated in less than two minutes.
My wife Vivian, our baby and I were in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office. A small room, with small chairs all leaning toward the blue walls, a wooden table in the center of the room with games, the electric outlets located at 6 feet above the floor, and one of the walls made out of acrylic with bubbling water inside to entertain the little ones.
Our baby was asleep and I was holding my phone over my lap, about to check it. At that moment Vivian and I were captivated by two little girls who were running around playing in the room with their colorful mismatched clothes, their dark straight hair tied up in pony tails and their smiles and eyes with that look of “I’m up to no good”.
The oldest girl was playing at the table while the youngest was running around making as much noise as possible. As she hit a chair or sang out loud we noticed she was constantly looking at her mom, trying to catch her attention. The mom was in the opposite wall from us, with a tired posture and a bored gaze anchored to her cellphone. I felt for her; I only have one kid and I know it can be exhausting at times. From time to time she would raise her voice to scold the girls, telling them to behave. All this without raising an eye from her phone.
The older girl then stood up and went to the next room, walking around the other side of the bubble wall and started waving and calling her little sister. It was an open invitation to explore the forms and shapes of the bubbles, to play in imaginary worlds filled with mermaids, submarines or hidden treasures. The youngest one, very excited, skedaddled out of the room to the next one and the mom, noticing that her daughters were running away, jumped out of her chair and darted out the door, dropping her belongings all over the floor. When the pursuit was over, she brought the youngest girl back, plopping her on her lap and giving her the phone. “Here, shush” - she said. And the little girl was hyptonized by the device in an instant.
The older girl remained on the other side of the wall and came back slowly, still trying to catch her sister’s attention to join her in playing with the bubbles, but the little one was now so absorbed on her phone that it felt like she was surrounded by an invisible wall and couldn’t be bothered.
The older girl made three attempts to catch her attention. First she poked her, like one pokes a bug in the grass trying to find out if it’s alive or not. No response. So she called her name out loud and knocked on her arm firmly, as if it was the door of a house. The youngest sister moved away a bit and made a growling sound. Finally, the older girl, feeling ignored and frustrated, hit her sister in the arm and tried to take the cellphone away from her hands, while the other one screamed and held the phone with a death grip. The mother of course, having lost her patience, scolded the two girls and the three left the room in a grand finale of tantrums, noise and tears. How sad - I thought- that such a wonderful opportunity to play and grow was forfeited by a wall of technology. And how quickly the invisible walls that people build to distract themselves end up making them apathetic or even violent.
I looked at Vivian, she looked at me, we looked at our baby who was still asleep, and as the distant screams faded away in the distance I slowly put my phone back inside my pocket. I don’t want any walls between us.